May 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 PM


Alongside Obama, George W. Bush Steals the WH Show (JULIE PACE, May 31, 2012, AP)

It's Barack Obama's house now, but his predecessor and political foil, George W. Bush, stole the show at the White House on Thursday with his wisecracks and grin.

"Thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging," the former president said, referring to members of his family and former staff, invited back to the executive mansion for the unveiling of his and Laura Bush's official portraits. "Behave yourselves," he jokingly admonished his crowd.

Bush told the current president he was pleased to know "that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, 'What would George do?'"

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


With PSA Testing, The Power Of Anecdote Often Trumps Statistics (RICHARD KNOX, 5/28/12, NPR)

Hal Arkes, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, says Fouts' way of thinking is nearly universal. The power of the anecdote almost always overwhelms statistical analysis, he says.

"Statistics are dry and they're boring and they're hard to understand," Arkes tells Shots. "They don't have the impact of someone standing in front of you telling their heart-rending story. I think this is common to just about everybody."

Arkes says anecdotal thinking "contributes to the widespread gross over-estimation of the benefits of PSA screening." He suggests people do a mental exercise to understand what the numbers are saying about PSA:

Imagine an auditorium filled with 1,000 men who had PSA screening tests and another auditorium with 1,000 men who didn't. That represents the kind of studies the federal task force was relying on.

"Take a look at the men in the two auditoriums, the men in the screened and the men in the not-screened auditorium," Arkes says. "There's just as many men who died of prostate cancer in each auditorium, which leads us to think in the aggregate it didn't do any good."

Arkes breaks it down in the journal Psychological Science.

In each auditorium, there would be eight men who died of prostate cancer. But among the thousand who got PSA tests, there would also be 20 men who were treated for prostate cancers that would never have grown and caused symptoms. And five of these needlessly treated men would have lifelong complications, such as impotence and incontinence.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


The Obama-Bush doctrine (Marc A. Thiessen, 5/31/12, Washington Post)

The fact is, with the critically important exception of terrorist interrogation, Obama has embraced nearly all of Bush's major counterterrorism policies. Rendition continues. Indefinite detention continues. The trial of terrorists by military commission continues. The National Security Agency's "warrantless wiretapping" of terrorist communications continues. While Obama shut down the CIA interrogation program, he gladly used the intelligence it produced to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Instead of seeking congressional authorization to kill American-born terrorists with drones, Obama has instead relied on secret Justice Department memos. And while Obama disclosed Bush's secret interrogation memos, he has steadfastly refused to make his own secret drone memos public.

Even the current pace of drone strikes is virtually unchanged from the pace set by Bush in the final six months of his administration. Obama has not escalated these strikes, as many suggest -- he simply continued the escalation Bush put in place before leaving office.

Indeed, the only changes Obama seems to have made to the drone campaign is that he took personal control of targeting decisions that Bush had left to experts in the intelligence community; gave his top political strategist, David Axelrod, a seat at the table where life or death decisions are made; and leaked the classified details of his policy to the New York Times so he could "spike the football" once again.

Most conservatives support Obama's drone strategy. And apparently so do most liberals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Oh, to Be Just Another Bearded Face (STEVEN KURUTZ, 5/31/12, NY Times)

At 35, I can grow a decent goatee and mustache, both recent developments, but my cheeks are so prepubescent smooth, with nary a whisker pushing up, that a full beard is impossible. Apparently, I'm not the only one. I mentioned my frustration to Steven Wilson, who runs, a Web site created to "increase awareness, appreciation and understanding of the beard." He's heard the story many times.

As Mr. Wilson explained to me in an e-mail, many men who suffer from this "terribly profound personal problem" are "extremely distressed" by their lack of beard-growing capability. They experience "pain and suffering" and "face ridicule" from their bearded friends. They can even be "intimidated by the sight of someone with a great beard."

Wait a minute. Are we still talking about beards and not another symbol of male virility?

I have never felt tortured by my inability to grow a beard, and it hasn't undermined my sense of manhood, either. (Until, maybe now.)

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Israeli Official Weighs an Imposed Palestinian Border (JODI RUDOREN, 5/30/12, NY Times)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that Israel should consider imposing the borders of a future Palestinian state, becoming the most senior government official to suggest bypassing a stagnant peace process.

Mr. Barak's statement urging consideration of what he and many Israelis call "unilateral actions," without offering any specifics, echoed an emerging chorus of political leaders, analysts and intellectuals who have said that Israel needs to put in effect its own settlement to the Palestinian crisis. Though the Israeli government continues to call for negotiations toward a two-state solution, the drive for a one-sided approach also received a boost on Wednesday from the Institute for National Security Studies, a respected research center that is close to the military and security establishment.

Mr. Barak called for "an interim agreement, maybe even unilateral action," during a conference sponsored by the institute here. Referring to fears that Jews will become a minority in their own state, he added, "Inaction is not a possibility."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Mitt Romney winning over GOP women, according to new poll (Jon Cohen and Krissah Thompson, 5/30/12, Washington Post)

Among registered voters, both Obama and Romney draw split verdicts. For Obama, 49 percent of voters hold favorable views; 48 percent negative ones. For Romney, it's an even-up 44 percent on both sides of the equation, marking the first time since January that voter sentiment hasn't tilted away from him.

One group where Romney has picked up considerable steam since mid-April is among GOP women, 80 percent of whom now have favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor. That's up from 59 percent last month.

The primaries didn't matter.  
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Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Experts disparage use of test for prostate cancer, but many men may reject advice (Brian Vastag, 5/29/12, Washington Post)

[T]he strong reactions stem from a fundamental divide between personal experiences with cancer screening and the statistical realities revealed by large studies.

"THE PSA TESTS SAVED MY LIFE!!!" one man wrote in an e-mail to The Post, calling the government task force a "death panel."

He was expressing a cancer narrative that runs strong in our culture. It goes like this: I got a cancer test. It showed a suspicious result. A biopsy (which snips out a bit of tissue) then revealed that I had cancer. I chose treatment. Surgery, radiation or chemotherapy got rid of the cancer. I'm cured now.

The test saved my life.

Well, maybe.

With prostate cancer, there's a problem with that story: There's often no way to know if a particular case would have been fatal if left untreated. That is, it's impossible to know if the treatment really cured you -- or if you would have lived a long life without it.

It's an unsatisfying -- and confusing -- reality of prostate cancer.

As Post medical writer David Brown reported last year, about 240,000 American men receive diagnoses of prostate cancer annually. But in more than half of those cases -- about 130,000 -- the tumors are localized and low-risk. That means the tumor is confined to the prostate and is growing slowly.

In December, a group of experts appointed by the National Institutes of Health recommended that men with this form of prostate cancer forgo immediate treatment. (This NIH panel also debated whether it was time to stop calling such tumors "cancer.") Keep an eye on it, they said, with regular doctor visits and tests. But don't immediately rush to have your prostate removed, which can cause incontinence, impotence and, in rare cases, infections and dangerous blood clots.

But because these low-risk cases are called "cancer," the natural reaction, instead, is this: Get it out. Operate. Give me radiation. Cure me.

Urologists, oncologists and surgeons offer these options to patients with even the lowest-risk tumors. They treat cancer for a living, so they tend to err on the side of giving treatment.

As a result, about 90 percent of men with the low-risk prostate tumors opt for treatment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


THE FAIRNESS TRAP (James Surowiecki, JUNE 4, 2012, The New Yorker)

Rationally, then, this standoff should end with a compromise--relaxing some austerity measures, and giving Greece a little more aid and time to reform. And we may still end up there. But the catch is that Europe isn't arguing just about what the most sensible economic policy is. It's arguing about what is fair. German voters and politicians think it's unfair to ask Germany to continue to foot the bill for countries that lived beyond their means and piled up huge debts they can't repay. They think it's unfair to expect Germany to make an open-ended commitment to support these countries in the absence of meaningful reform. But Greek voters are equally certain that it's unfair for them to suffer years of slim government budgets and high unemployment in order to repay foreign banks and richer northern neighbors, which have reaped outsized benefits from closer European integration. The grievances aren't unreasonable, on either side, but the focus on fairness, by making it harder to reach any kind of agreement at all, could prove disastrous.

The basic problem is that we care so much about fairness that we are often willing to sacrifice economic well-being to enforce it. Behavioral economists have shown that a sizable percentage of people are willing to pay real money to punish people who are taking from a common pot but not contributing to it. Just to insure that shirkers get what they deserve, we are prepared to make ourselves poorer. Similarly, a famous experiment known as the ultimatum game--one person offers another a cut of a sum of money and the second person decides whether or not to accept--shows that people will walk away from free money if they feel that an offer is unfair. Thus, even when there's a solution that would leave everyone better off, a fixation on fairness can make agreement impossible.

You can see this in the way the U.S. has dealt with the foreclosure crisis. Plenty of economists recommended giving mortgage relief to underwater homeowners, but that has not happened on any meaningful scale, in part because so many voters see it as unfair to those who are still obediently paying their mortgages. Mortgage relief would almost certainly have helped all homeowners, not just underwater ones--by limiting the spillover impact of foreclosures on house prices--but, still, the idea that some people would be getting something for nothing irritated voters.

The problem is, of course, exacerbated by ethnicity.  Germans might accept an unfair solution that benefits Germans, but not one that helps Greeks, while Americans perceive the mortgage problem as being caused by lending to the undeserving black and Hispanic poor, rather than as a function of fraud by white bankers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


In thrall of the empire of the sons (John Garnaut, May 26, 2012, Sydney Morning Herald)

Four years after Zeng Wei's purchase - which remains the most egregious confirmed example of Communist Party princelings flaunting their wealth - China's leaders are again grappling with the predicament of being unable or unwilling to control the privileges that flow towards their relatives. The reformist advocacy of the Premier, Wen Jiabao, has long been discounted because of his wife and son's aggressive use of family status to pursue private business opportunities. And now the purged Politburo member Bo Xilai also stands exposed to allegations of great hypocrisy, as foreign journalists pore over his family's financial dealings.

While Bo Xilai was reviving Maoist nostalgia on his official's salary of about $US1600 per month, in a country where per capita income is ranked 121st in the world, his son was renting a presidential-style suite at Oxford and driving a Porsche in the United States. Bo Xilai's elder brother adopted an alias to control $US10 million worth of shares at the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of a state-owned bank. Two sisters of Bo's wife control business interests worth $US126 million, according to what a Bloomberg investigation could identify. And his wife, Gu Kailai, is accused of murdering an English friend, Neil Heywood, after they fell out over money.

Zeng Qinghong, Bo Xilai and Wen Jiabao are all immensely capable individuals, engaging and at ease in any company. Zeng and Bo, who were born into the heart of the communist aristocracy, are far more interested in accumulating personal power and defending the regime than acquiring the trappings of personal wealth. In today's China, however, where ''politics is in command'' and capital comes at the cost of a future favour for those who have the right connections, even simple-living and apparently idealistic leaders have found it difficult to deny their families access to the power and largesse that naturally flows their way.

Of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, at least six have children who have profited handsomely from their family status. Since the tragedy of Tiananmen, leaders have collectively failed to find a way of limiting each other's family privileges without fracturing solidarity. It is becoming a regime-threatening vulnerability. [...]

The blurring of state and private interests that took place with the early princelings in the 1980s looks trifling compared with the melding of politics and business today.
Some of China's most respected public intellectuals are warning society and economy are being held hostage to the wealth-maximising requirements of the political elite.
Such warnings are being echoed privately in business circles, too, where entrepreneurs are enthralled by the prospects of short-term profits but increasingly uncertain about their personal or financial security.

The private wealth of the party's princelings is usually well concealed, including through the use of multiple identities. But they provide bridges between politics and the market. Many are joining or establishing investment vehicles and inserted themselves as agents to lubricate or clog the arteries of private sector wealth. Stock exchanges double as vehicles for converting family political capital into cash, which can be re-converted into political power. State-owned enterprises can allocate massive contracts in their favour and entrepreneurs split their profits with them in exchange for regulatory protection.

In investment banking and private equity circles, the best known princeling entrepreneurs are Winston Wen, son of the Premier, Wen Jiabao; Li Tong, daughter of the propaganda chief; and Wilson Feng, whose father-in-law heads the National People's Congress and has overall responsibility for state-owned enterprises. Further from the relative transparency of stockmarket transactions, however, other children of China's top nine leaders are said to be aggressively pursuing opportunities, according to Chinese business people who have encountered them.

They include Jia Jianguo, son of the head of the party's ''united front'' work (involved in one of Beijing's most controversial developments, at Dongzhimen railway station); He Jintao, son of the party's anti-corruption chief and former Organisation Department head (facilitated a complicated restructuring of the Guangdong Investment Trust and Investment Corporation, which left creditors frustrated); and Zhou Bin, son of oil tsar and security chief Zhou Yongkang (contracting with China's big oil companies).
The business operations of all six princelings relate to the portfolios of their fathers (or father-in-law, in the case of Wu Bangguo).

China's army of censors and propaganda officials ensure the private dealings of cadre children never make it into mainstream Chinese media. Nevertheless, even China's official mouthpieces acknowledge the public's growing discontent when it suits them, as they did shortly after the purge of Bo Xilai. ''The spouses and children of some cadres have taken advantage of their power to seek personal gains, disregarding the law, thus stirring public outcry,'' said Xinhua on April 14.

The hypocrisy of Communist Party leaders using socialist ideals to justify their dictatorship, while allowing their children to make millions, is not just alienating ordinary citizens. It is splitting princelings themselves right down the middle. Many who purport to uphold egalitarian ideals believe the recent crop of leaders have betrayed and may yet destroy the Communist Party their parents spilled their blood for. These descendants of revolutionary leaders reject the term ''princelings'' for its aristocratic connotations, and draw a boundary between themselves and younger children of ''mere bureaucrats'', such as those listed above.

''In recent years we've heard about the second generation bureaucrats (guanerdai) but we are not, we are the red successors (hongerdai),'' says Hu Muying, the daughter of Mao's long-time speech writer, Hu Qiaomu, who runs a large ''red successor'' organisation. ''My father's generation worked for the interest of the people, but officials today work to become officials, not serving the people but striving for their own power and interests while their children make huge profits from their parents' power.''

The Communist Party's ''red successors'' speak as if they would do anything to rid the nation of corruption. But their determination stops at the thresholds of the family home. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Center of gravity in oil world shifts to Americas (Juan Forero, 5/25/12, Washington Post)

Oil produced in Persian Gulf countries -- notably Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq -- will remain vital to the world's energy picture. But what was once a seemingly unalterable truth -- that American oil production would steadily fall while the United States remained heavily reliant on Middle Eastern supplies -- is being turned on its head.

Since 2006, exports to the United States have fallen from all but one major member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the net decline adding up to nearly 1.8 million barrels a day. Canada, Brazil and Colombia have increased exports to the United States by 700,000 barrels daily in that time and now provide nearly 3.4 million barrels a day.

Six Persian Gulf suppliers provide just 22 percent of all U.S. imports, the nonpartisan U.S. Energy Information Administration said this month. The United States' neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, meanwhile, provide more than half -- a figure that has held steady for years because, as production has fallen in the oil powers of Venezuela and Mexico, it has gone up elsewhere.

Production has risen strikingly fast in places such as the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and the "tight" rock formations of North Dakota and Texas -- basins with resources so hard to refine or reach that they were not considered economically viable until recently. Oil is gushing in once-dangerous regions of Colombia and far off the coast of Brazil, under thick salt beds thousands of feet below the surface.

A host of new discoveries or rosy prospects for large deposits also has energy companies drilling in the Chukchi Sea inside the Arctic Circle, deep in the Amazon, along a potentially huge field off South America's northeast shoulder, and in the roiling waters around the Falkland Islands.

"A range of big possibilities for oil are opening up," said Juan Carlos Montiel, as he directed a team from the state-controlled company YPF to drill while a whipping wind brought an autumn chill to the potentially lucrative fields here outside Añelo. "With the exploration that is being carried out, I think we will really increase the production of gas and oil."

Because oil is a widely traded commodity, analysts say the upsurge in production in the Americas does not mean the United States will be immune to price shocks. If Iran were to close off the Strait of Hormuz, stopping tanker traffic from Middle East suppliers, a price shock wave would be felt worldwide.

But the new dynamics for the United States -- an increasingly intertwined energy relationship with Canada and more reliance on Brazil -- mean U.S. energy supplies are more assured than before, even if oil from an important Persian Gulf supplier is temporarily halted.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


With 'God on their side,' Romney and Republicans may very well prevail (Kyle Scott, May 30, 2012, CS Monitor)

[T]he Republican Party is now securing support from voters of every major religion in the United States, with the exception of Islam.

For nearly three decades Christian Evangelicals have tended to be reliably Republican. (Today, 70 percent of white evangelical Protestants support the GOP.) But now Mormons, Jews, and Catholics are getting on board with the party in increasing numbers. If the GOP is able to consolidate the support of the major religions in the US, Romney and other Republican candidates stand to win big at the polling booth in 2012 and well beyond.

Certainly, voters of a certain religion don't always vote as a bloc, and recent trends indicate that some young Evangelicals are rejecting the "partisan pulpit" and embracing traditionally liberal or Democratic values. But these religious groupings have had historic party allegiances that played out on election day as confirmed by the Pew Research Center Survey in 2009 following the 2008 presidential election.

Seeing a Mormon frontrunner in Romney may have helped earn Mormon support for the GOP, but the social conservative dimensions of the Republican platform also fit nicely within the Mormon faith. A strong commitment to traditional family values is the bedrock of both Mormonism and Republicanism.

There's a religious party and a secular party. The future isn't secular.

The Future Will Be More Religious and Conservative Than You Think (Eric Kaufmann, May 8, 2012, The American)

The growing Republican fertility advantage largely derives from religion. In the past, people had children for material reasons--many kids died young, and fresh hands were needed to work the land and provide for parents in their old age. Today, we live in cities and benefit from pensions, while children are expensive. Contraception has severed the link between sex and procreation, placing fertility under our control as never before. Family size, which was once a matter of survival, is now a value choice. Seculars can delay having children and opt for fewer, while the religious--especially fundamentalists--have them earlier and more often. This is sometimes called the "second demographic transition" and is of signal importance because in the United States and elsewhere, ours is an epoch of religious polarization. The challenge of secularism, and its threat to religion in the form of modernist theology, has prompted a fundamentalist backlash across all the major world religions.

Secular-fundamentalist polarization produced the "culture wars" in the United States, in which conservative Catholics, Jews, and Protestants moved closer to each other than to their lapsed coreligionists. Religious Latinos and African-Americans generally vote Democratic, but opt for conservative positions on social issues like abortion. When acting in concert with white religious conservatives, as with Proposition 8 in California, they become a force to be reckoned with. And all have a considerable fertility edge over their pro-choice counterparts. This explains why the pro-life majority in the U.S. population will approach three-quarters of the total by the end of the century. However, the Republican Party is not projected to increase its support. Instead, the growth will be among pro-life Hispanics, most of whom inherit Democratic partisanship.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


USA Still A-OK (LUKE JOHNSON, June 2012, Standpoint)

For a start, the US has scale -- a population of 300 million occupying an enormous and fertile land mass. It remains the place immigrants desire more than any other -- so the world's talent flocks there to study, to work, to invest and to try to get rich. Its robust democracy, defence of property rights, rule of law and protection of free speech combine to make it the most civilised large nation on earth. They also make it an incredibly attractive market -- to export to and invest in.  

The demographics of the US are the best of any Western nation, and indeed much better than many in the East. Within 20 years, thanks to immigration and reasonable birth rates, US citizens will on average be much younger than the Chinese. And it will have a dramatically younger population than states like Japan or Germany, which will become gerontocracies. This vigour is essential for any country to maintain its prosperity in the longer run.  [...]

Of course America has serious issues. It needs to reduce government spending to cut its federal deficit. It must reform its healthcare system, which is wasteful and litigious. Its political system is semi-paralysed, and requires more pragmatism and less extremism -- from both sides. It should cut military spending and rein back much of the paranoid madness of Homeland Security. Vested interests and the lobbying machine should play smaller roles in political decision-making. Its tax code is over-complicated and could benefit from simplification. Its schools need more freedom, while its teaching unions should be challenged. And there are plenty of other imperfections.

But no other nation has anything close to America's manifest destiny, resources or abilities. Its energetic citizens, with their can-do attitude, optimistic approach and raw ambition, are unmatched at wealth creation. It invents and pioneers for the whole world, be it new pharmaceuticals, means of communication or 3-D printing. I believe America has regained its confidence, and is once again a tremendous engine of prosperity and progress.    

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


My Well-Seasoned Life: My bread baking journey (Kim McCallie, 5/31/12, Savannah Now)

[Y]ear after year, I've declared that "this" is the year that I learn to bake bread! Until now, that resolution hasn't been kept. I've thumbed through recipes and, seeing the word "yeast" in the ingredients, have quickly turned the page. Just looking at that long list of directions was more than I could bear. [...]

Now, I've partnered with King Arthur Flour in an attempt to jump start my bread-making journey. Not only am I trying to perfect my bread-making skills, but I am also trying to incorporate more whole grains into my family's diet. It has been quite a learning process. I wasn't sure that I would like whole wheat bread because it tends to be bitter. But, I've learned that adding orange juice to the dough will greatly reduce the bitter taste.

The recipe I am featuring here is perfect for beginners because there is no kneading. All of the ingredients are combined into one bowl and then placed in the loaf pan. The bakers at King Arthur Flour include helpful hints as to what to look for as the bread rises. As a beginner, it gives me confidence to know that I'm on the right track.

This wheat bread is dense and flavorful. The hint of molasses in the background reminded me of the bread served at steak houses. All this bread needed was a light spread of softened butter. With this bread under my belt, cinnamon rolls can't be far behind. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Former justice predicts cracks in Citizens United decision (NBC's Pete Williams, 5/30/12)

In remarks prepared for delivery at the University of Arkansas, Stevens predicted that the court will soon be forced to issue rulings that will undermine a key part of the Citizens United ruling -- that the First Amendment "prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity," including the fact that the speaker is a corporation.
The court's decision left undecided whether the same free speech right applies to foreign corporations. In due course, Stevens said, the court will be called upon to decide that question, forcing it to craft an exception "that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion."

"The court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech.  It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters," he said.

Stevens said a recent Supreme Court action may also undermine Citizens United.  In January, the justices upheld a lower court ruling that said two non-citizens could not make political contributions to political candidates.  It's therefore now settled, Stevens said, "that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech" through contributions.

May 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


David Cameron and Tony Blair 'forge special relationship' (The Telegraph, 5/30/12)

Details about the relationship between Mr Cameron - who once described himself as the "heir to Blair" - and his former political adversary are likely to alarm partisans in both parties.

Mr Blair is said to have visited Mr Cameron at the Prime Minister's official country residence of Chequers last July - in a meeting that had never previously been disclosed by Downing Street.

The pair have also reportedly had at least seven telelphone conversations since Mr Cameron entered Downing Street, averaging at about one every three months.

They're the same guy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Ireland's small-town solution to euro uncertainty: bringing back the punt (Henry McDonald, 5/27/12,

The only euros visible inside Lipton's mini market are the joke ones printed on toilet rolls and tissue paper. Almost everything else in the shop - and in this town, close to the Northern Ireland border - from a pint of Guinness to a bag of animal feed, can now be bought with the pre-euro Irish currency, the punt.

Three days before Ireland's crucial referendum on the eurozone's fiscal pact - a vote that could complicate further the debate over austerity in Europe - the citizens of Clones are already taking matters into their own hands. Butchers, bar owners, shopkeepers, barbers and ordinary citizens of the County Monaghan town have in effect resurrected the old Irish currency bearing the faces of past Irish heroes such as Catholic emancipator Daniel O'Connell as the punt exchanges hands and is tucked into the tills.

They are all taking part in an experiment to boost a town ravaged by the economic downturn. It exploits a financial loophole which deems that up to 285m punts stuffed under Irish mattresses, inside piggy banks, salted away as souvenirs in shoeboxes or in latent bank accounts, are still legal currency.

Holders of the old currency are invited to visit Clones and hand over their punts in exchange for blue and yellow laminated vouchers which are then usable at any of the 45 businesses that have signed up for the scheme.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Folk musician Doc Watson dies at 89 (Terence McArdle, 5/30/12, 2012)

In a career that spanned seven decades, Mr. Watson influenced such diverse musicians as Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Clarence White of the Byrds, the innovative acoustic picker Leo Kottke and bluegrass multi­instrumentalist Ricky Skaggs.

"He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and finger-picking guitar performance," the late Ralph Rinzler, an influential folklorist who first recorded Mr. Watson in the early 1960s, once wrote. "His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history."

Mr. Watson's repertoire included country songs, blues and contemporary folk by writers including Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. And he was musically adventurous, once even jamming on his flat-top folk guitar with the electric soul band Booker T. and the MGs during a 1996 performance at the Wolf Trap outdoor theater in Vienna.

He was best known, however, for his old-timey music -- the fiddle tunes that he adapted for the guitar and traditional folk songs, such as "Shady Grove," that had been passed down through oral tradition from their origins in the British Isles to the rural communities of the American South.

"His music is human, the vivid and simple songs carrying him and the listener to another time, another place," critic Dana Andrew Jennings wrote in the New York Times in 1995. "When he sings a bluesy Jimmie Rodgers yodel, one feels the sting of the Great Depression and the solace Rodgers provided. When he sings a Carter Family song, one can see their Clinch Mountain home in Virginia."

As a young guitarist, Mr. Watson was inspired by the records of Grady Martin, a renowned Nashville session musician who acquired a following in the late 1940s for his fast fingerwork on the electric guitar. Mr. Watson learned to play fast fiddle tunes on a Les Paul electric guitar and performed in a rockabilly and Western swing band in the 1950s.

In 1960, as part of his field work, Rinzler went to North Carolina to record Mr. Watson's neighbor, the old-timey guitarist Clarence Ashley, with Mr. Watson as an accompanist, for Folkways Records. At Rinzler's insistence, Mr. Watson reluctantly used a Martin folk guitar instead of his electric instrument. He never returned to the Les Paul.

Folkways released the album "Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's" (1961). The recording helped create momentum for Mr. Watson's old-time music. At folk festivals, Rinzler teamed him with Ashley, guitarist Clint Howard and fiddler Fred Price. Mr. Watson also performed as a soloist at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village -- the club where Bob Dylan played some of his earliest engagements.

We reviewed Kent Gustafson's loving biography of Doc here.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Corporate Personhood and 14th Amendment Rights (Thomas Storck, 5/30/12, Crisis)

[The Fourteenth Amendment] was ratified in the summer of 1868, the second of three amendments enacted after the Civil War to free the slaves and secure their rights as citizens.  The reference to "persons born or naturalized" would be, one hopes, clear enough so that no one could ever have imagined that the text refers to anything except natural persons.  After all, corporate bodies are neither born nor do they achieve citizenship by naturalization. But this was not what occurred.

In the period during and after the Civil War corporations were beginning their successful attempts to influence state legislatures to grant them privileges unknown to ante bellum corporations.  These included the right of a corporation to own stock in other corporations, thus allowing the creation of holding companies, and the passage of general incorporation laws.  In the ante bellum era corporations were generally chartered by state legislatures for specific purposes, for example, to operate a steamship or a bridge, for a certain number of years, and usually with other restrictions as well.  Of course, in some cases, this grant of state authority was tantamount to a temporary grant of monopoly rights.  General incorporation laws, which gradually came into existence in the second half of the 19th century, allowed corporations much more flexibility than they previously had.  In such a climate of opinion, it was not surprising that corporations, especially the then powerful railroads, would use their political influence to obtain the ultimate prize, corporate personhood rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The odd thing is that the U.S. Supreme Court never really gave such a grant of personhood in any of its decisions.  Rather, the statement that the Court considered corporations as persons under the Fourteenth Amendment was inserted into the headnote, or prefatory material, of an 1886 case by the man responsible for compiling and printing the Court's decisions, Bancroft Davis, the court reporter.  In the case of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 394), Davis, with the concurrence of the Chief Justice, inserted the following into the headnote:

One of the points made and discussed at length in the brief of counsel for defendants in error was that "Corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."  Before argument Mr. Chief Justice Waite said:  The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations.  We are of opinion that it does.

Although nearly twenty years later the Supreme Court formally stated that headnotes do not have any legal force, by then it was too late.  The "ruling" in Santa Clara had already been cited more than once and had acquired the status of a precedent.  So in this extraordinary and clearly extralegal manner corporations in the United States acquired the personhood and, one by one, the rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment solely to "persons born or naturalized in the United States."

What is even more outrageous is that those justices and judges, such as Antonin Scalia, who make much of their commitment to "originalism," i.e., to interpreting the Constitution as it was understood by those who wrote it, seem to have no difficulty in acquiescing in the hijacking of the Fourteenth Amendment by corporations and their legal lackeys.  This would seem to call into question the honesty of their "originalism."

Question?  There's no question.  They're just being activist partisans. 
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May 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Evolution - scepticism is dead (FRANK ELTMAN, 28/05/2012, AP)

Richard Leakey predicts scepticism over evolution will soon be history - not that the avowed atheist has any doubts himself.

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist expects scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that "even the skeptics can accept it".

"If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that colour is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive," Leakey says, "then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges". [...]

"If you don't like the word evolution, I don't care what you call it, but life has changed."

``You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up.

``So the question is why, how does this happen? It's not covered by Genesis.

``There's no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I've read from the lips of any God."

There are precious few people who argue that life hasn't changed, particularly given that the Creation story told in Genesis is evolutionary, including, of course, descent from a common ancestor.

But note that the caption accompanying a picture of Charles Darwin in the story states that "A leading paleoanthropologist believes there will soon be no sceptics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution."

Except that Mr. Leakey makes no claim in the story that evolution proceeded according to the Darwinian scheme, nor does he scientifically refute the theory that evolution has been intelligently guided.  Rather, he says--quite fittingly--that he doesn't care what it's all called, nor does he have any apparent theory about why it has, he just knows the description in Genesis isn't as detailed as the fossil record.  It is because this is all that they have after 150 years that scepticism about Darwinism is nearly universal now.  Even putative Darwinists don't defend the theory any more.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Obama Finds Campaigning Rules Clock (PETER BAKER, 5/28/12, NY Times)

During long hours on Air Force One, Mr. Obama sets himself up in the conference room as aides wander in and out. He reads briefing books; receives updates; checks in with his chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew, back at the White House; and flips through The New Yorker or Sports Illustrated. The television is often tuned to ESPN with the sound down.

His messages have an improvisational feel at times. On the flight to Colorado last week, Jay Carney, his press secretary, read him an online column concluding that he has presided over slower growth in federal spending than any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Obama liked it so much he inserted it into his campaign speech.

Just like that, an online column, rather than a detailed study by a budget office, became fodder for his argument. "Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years," he told supporters in a hotel ballroom in Denver. What he did not say is that the calculation did not count significant spending in his early months in office and assumed future cuts that he opposes.

The crowd of 550, fewer than the 700 expected, was obviously glad to see him, though the room at times felt a little flat and Mr. Obama a little tired. The audience laughed at his implicit gibes at Mr. Romney's wealth, like when he applauded Mr. Romney's "personal success" and when he prefaced a sentence by referring to "those of us who've spent time in the real world."

Within the vacuum that he operates from, the public payroll must seem to be the real world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


A Budget Grand Bargain Will Follow the Election: Early 2013 will offer the best political environment for critical fiscal reform. (ROBERT RUBIN, 5/29/12, WSJ)

[T]his time could possibly be different, thanks to five factors combining to create the best political environment for real fiscal action in a long time. The risks of inaction are apparent and will put pressure on all policy makers: Sequestration and expiring tax cuts will have severe consequences and could cost the country 3.5%-4% of gross domestic product in 2013. A political punt would be a striking manifestation of our inability to govern ourselves and could heighten uncertainty and lack of confidence about future economic policy. That could have serious adverse impact on our economy and on markets. And the months right after a presidential election are--since they're the furthest from the next federal elections--the lowest-pressure time in our political system.

Most important, there is no choice available to Congress that does not involve significant changes to taxes and spending that members of each party will oppose. Unlike any situation I remember, Congress cannot simply maintain the status quo by failing to act.

Doing nothing means tax increases and massive cuts in defense and nondefense spending. Kicking the can down the road requires compromising with the other party on taxes and spending. And biting the bullet on the hard choices will necessitate compromises and action as well. The compromises required for constructive action are substantially harder than the compromises necessary to punt, but taking the easy way out requires actions that come with their own set of political costs. And, the longer you avoid tough choices, the deeper the hole gets, the greater the resulting crisis is and the harsher the necessary measures necessary to reestablish confidence and recover.

What's more, most policy analysts agree on the basic framework for establishing sound fiscal conditions, though the specifics would require intense negotiation.

The overarching goal should be a 10-to-12 year track of deficit reduction that stabilizes the ratio of debt to GDP and then begins to bring it down. Within that context, we must create budgetary room for vigorous public investment in education, basic research infrastructure and other areas that are critical for competitiveness and broad increases in standards of living.

Reducing the deficit, increasing public investment, and preserving government's ability to conduct critical activities will require constraints on spending in all areas, including serious entitlement reform, substantial additional revenues, and difficult judgments on priorities and trade-offs.

The UR just blew his chance to be the one who got credit for it. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Two, Three, Many Obamas : The art of being Dr. Barack and Mr. Obama. (Victor Davis Hanson, 5/29/12, National Review)

I think the president believes that private-equity firms harm the economy and that their CEOs are at best indifferent and sometimes unsympathetic to the struggle of average Americans. I say "I think" because Obama has himself collected millions of dollars from such profit-driven firms, and uses their grandees to raise cash for his reelection. Cynical, hypocritical, or unaware? You decide.

I think the president is in favor of publicly funded campaign financing but against super PACs; but again I say "I think" because Obama renounced the former and embraced the latter. Are Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, and preventive detention constitutional necessities or threats to our security? Some of Obama's personalities have said they are bad; others apparently believe them to be good.

One Barack Obama crisscrosses the country warning us that a sinister elite has robbed from the common good and must atone for destroying the economy. Another Barry Obama hits the golf links in unapologetically aristocratic fashion and prefers Martha's Vineyard for his vacation. So I am confused about the evil 1 percent. Obama 1 feels they have shorted the country and must now pay their fair share, while Obama 2 feels they are vital allies in helping the poor by attending his $40,000-a-plate campaign dinners.

Barry Obama respects those who make billions from Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook, but Barack Obama does not respect those who make billions from oil, farming, and construction. Is Wall Street the source of our national problems or the source of the president's political salvation? There is an Obama who runs against a prep-schooled mansion-living member of the elite; there is another Obama who was a prep-schooled mansion-living member of the elite.

Watch what he does, not what he says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


NATO airstrike kills al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader in Afghanistan (Associated Press, 5/28/12)

The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan killed al-Qaeda's second highest leader in the country in an airstrike in eastern Kunar province, the coalition said Tuesday.

Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, was responsible for commanding foreign insurgents in Afghanistan and directing attacks against NATO and Afghan forces, the alliance said. He frequently traveled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, carrying out commands from senior al-Qaeda leadership and ferrying in weapons and fighters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will (JO BECKER and SCOTT SHANE, 5/29/12, NY Times)

[M]r. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret "nominations" process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding "kill list," poring over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre "baseball cards" of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises -- but his family is with him -- it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


US envoy under fire in Russia after 'shocking' speech (AFP, 5/29/12)

Ambassador Michael McFaul -- a top former foreign policy aide of President Barack Obama who arrived in Russia in January -- became the talk of state television this weekend for reportedly accusing the Kremlin of once trying to bribe Kyrgyzstan to close down a US base that has irritated Russia.

State television reported that McFaul had told a group of students at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in a May 25 speech that Russia offered the former Soviet republic a massive loan to shut the base, whose presence in Central Asia has irritated Moscow.

He also reportedly criticised RT, Russia's state-run foreign-language television station, and accused Moscow of tying its backing of US foreign policy positions to less criticism of its human rights record.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


The right running mate for Romney (Michael Gerson, 5/29/12, Washington Post)

How should Romney make his choice? Political science offers some guidance. There is little evidence that choosing a running mate to gain advantage in his or her home state or region makes any difference. The contrast between the presidential candidates overwhelms local pride in a prospective vice president's voting address. But the choice of a running mate seems to influence public perceptions of the presidential candidate himself. It is one element of a diffuse public judgment on presidential leadership.

Another consideration is difficult for political scientists to quantify: the quality of vice presidential skills. This skill set is specific, peculiar and limited -- like being the best carver of butter sculptures in the world. It involves relentless attacks on the opposing party's presidential nominee and effective advocacy of a policy agenda that isn't your own. It is simultaneously pit bull and lap dog.

I'm not sure anyone would be flattered by hearing, "You have such wonderful vice presidential skills." But they can be important. A presidential campaign is a series of messaging efforts, like drives in a football game. A vice presidential candidate can gain or lose ground.

By this standard, one Republican vice presidential prospect stands out. Chris Christie may have the aspect of William Howard Taft, but he has the manner of Teddy Roosevelt -- tough, tenacious, tireless. Christie is naturally and constantly on the offensive.

Alternatively, Mitt could take Jeb and run on his agenda, having none of his own.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Meet 'Flame', The Massive Spy Malware Infiltrating Iranian Computers (Kim Zetter, May 28, 2012, Wired)

A massive, highly sophisticated piece of malware has been newly found infecting systems in Iran and elsewhere and is believed to be part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyberespionage operation.

The malware, discovered by Russia-based anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab, is an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years.

Dubbed "Flame" by Kaspersky, the malicious code dwarfs Stuxnet in size - the groundbreaking infrastructure-sabotaging malware that is believed to have wreaked havoc on Iran's nuclear program in 2009 and 2010. Although Flame has both a different purpose and composition than Stuxnet, and appears to have been written by different programmers, its complexity, the geographic scope of its infections and its behavior indicate strongly that a nation-state is behind Flame, rather than common cyber-criminals -- marking it as yet another tool in the growing arsenal of cyberweaponry. [...]

Early analysis of Flame by the Lab indicates that it's designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

The malware, which is 20 megabytes when all of its modules are installed, contains multiple libraries, SQLite3 databases, various levels of encryption -- some strong, some weak -- and 20 plug-ins that can be swapped in and out to provide various functionality for the attackers. It even contains some code that is written in the LUA programming language -- an uncommon choice for malware.

Kaspersky Lab is calling it "one of the most complex threats ever discovered."

"It's pretty fantastic and incredible in complexity," said Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

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May 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


How High Deductible Plans Lead To Low Healthcare Spending (Sally Pipes, 5/28/12, Forbes)

According to CMS's own data, the growth rate of health costs didn't start moderating in recent years -- it's been cooling off since 2002.

It's no coincidence that 2002 was also the year that employers started embracing high-deductible health insurance plans for their workforces. The plans really took off in the mid-2000s. Between 2006 and 2011, the share of American workers enrolled in one more than quadrupled, from 3 percent to 13 percent.

As of January 2011, the most recent month for which data exist, 11.4 million Americans were enrolled in consumer-directed health coverage -- a 14 percent increase over the 2010 total.

High-deductible plans give patients financial responsibility for routine medical services. The plans are coupled with Health Savings Accounts (HSA), which allow people to save pre-tax income to be spent exclusively on health care. The insurance policies kick in once the annual deductible is reached, to protect patients against health catastrophes.

Together, high-deductible plans and HSAs give patients the incentive to use some common sense when shopping for health care. Any money they don't spend they keep and can be rolled over to the next year tax free. That encourages patients to be aware of the prices they're charged -- and to avoid consuming excessive or duplicative services.

Work from the RAND Corporation finds that the average American worker who switches from a traditional health plan to a consumer-directed one uses 14 percent fewer medical services -- without any associated adverse effects on health outcomes.

Expanding the use of consumer-directed plans would dramatically reduce national health spending. RAND researchers have estimated that expanding the share of employers with such plans to 50 percent would reduce national health costs by a stunning $57 billion per year.

We all know where we're headed, we're just quarreling over the pace of transformation. 
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Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Bush's Terror Overreach Becomes 'New Normal' Under Obama (Albert R. Hunt, May 27, 2012, Bloomberg)

Critics of President George W. Bush's anti-terrorism efforts, mainly Democrats and some Republicans, rejoiced when Barack Obama was elected. They were convinced that what they considered the post-Sept. 11 trampling of constitutional rights and civil liberties would end.

As a candidate, Obama, a former constitutional law professor, promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as to end indefinite detention and the rendition of terrorism suspects to other countries, where they often were tortured. He also vowed greater accountability and transparency in the conduct of war.

Things look different today. In his new book, "Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11," Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush and objected to some of that administration's tactics, writes: "The Obama administration would continue almost all of its predecessor's policies, transforming what had seemed extraordinary under the Bush regime into the 'new normal' of American counter-terrorism policy."

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Obama's Unfair Shot (Niall Ferguson, May 28, 2012, Daily Beast)

First, this isn't France. Bashing finance worked well for François Hollande in the recent presidential elections there. But the same tactic makes even some Democrats uncomfortable here (like Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, ex-congressman Harold Ford Jr., and former "auto czar" Steve Rattner).

Second, Obama is nearing the end of his first term as president, unlike Roosevelt in 1933, who was just starting out. He and his party have already passed a massive piece of financial regulation, the 2,319-page Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank, for short). And guess what? It's garbage. Despite requiring regulators to create 243 new rules, conduct 67 studies (to see if the rules are actually necessary), and issue 22 periodic reports, it somehow manages to miss the real causes of the crisis. A mass of ambiguous, contradictory complexity, its sole result will be to generate jobs for lawyers advising compliance departments.

Third, far from putting the nation on track for recovery, the president's Fair Shot is sending us over a fiscal cliff. Last week the Congressional Budget Office issued a stark warning that if Washington allows the Bush tax cuts to expire and the preprogrammed spending cuts (code-named sequestration) to go ahead, the economy will contract by 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013. And remember: the reason is that President Obama cynically canned the eminently sensible recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission.

Yes, I know it's shocking. Before Mitt Romney entered politics, he started up and successfully ran a private-equity shop. He turned money-losing companies around, partly by firing surplus employees. Before Barack Obama entered politics, he was a community organizer, then a lawyer. The firm where he worked in the 1990s specialized in civil-rights litigation and neighborhood economic development. Visit Chicago to see how well that went.

The president wants this election to be the White House vs. Wall Street. But if it's really Harvard Business School vs. Harvard Law School, I'll take the M.B.A. over the J.D. every time.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Aussie Workers Waste Time on the Job (VITTORIO HERNANDEZ, May 27, 2012, IB Times)

An Ernst & Young study has estimated the cost of underproductivity of Australian workers at over $41 billion a year in salaries alone.

However, while the poll found that almost one-third of Aussie employees are not productive, the real reasons for their low productivity are delays due to red tape and lack of trust in the company's management.

According to the survey's 2,500 respondents, 12 per cent of wasted employees' time are spent on meaningless production, 16 per cent on waiting for processing to finish, 13 per cent on pending technology, 4 per cent on social media, 15 per cent on email, 11 per cent on production waste, 13 per cent on wasted motion and defects and 9 per cent on useless meetings.

Less than 50 per cent of the workers were considered solid contributors to the company. These are the workers who spend at least two-thirds of their time on productive work. About 24 per cent were often unproductive and another 7 per cent spend about three months every year on sick leave.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


The Miracle Next Door: Poland Emerges as a Central European Powerhouse (Erich Follath and Jan Puhl, 5/28/12, Der Spiegel)

Things have been steadily improving in Poland for more than two decades. And even with other European economies stagnating, the Polish boom continues unabated. In 2009, a year of crisis, when the German, Italian and British economies each shrank by about 5 percent, Poland was the only country on the continent to experience economic growth (1.7 percent). By 2011, the Polish economy was already growing by an impressive 4.4 percent. The country's successes are on full display throughout Poland. The once-backward agricultural country has become a giant construction site, where cranes dot the skylines of major cities and some already boast high-tech paradises. No matter who wins the European Championship, if growth trends in the last decades are any indicator, the Poles are already Europe's champions.

In Brussels, politicians from Warsaw were derided not too long ago as nationalistic troublemakers crowing their absurd demands. But ever since liberal conservative Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski came into power in 2007, and then, in 2011, became the first administration since the fall of communism to be democratically reelected, Warsaw has been seen as a role model. It has long since incorporated a debt limit into its budget, and it signed the fiscal pact without further ado.

Amid speculation over Greece's future in the euro zone, the Polish government is fighting to join the common currency. Warsaw expects to fulfill the criteria by no later than the end of 2015. To do so, it is also prepared to give up sovereignty rights. Tusk and Sikorski want to assert themselves and assume a leading role in the northern alliance of Europe's economically sound countries, and they have the support of their fellow Poles. Hardly any other population is as pro-European as the Poles. In surveys, more than 80 percent say that their country has benefited from joining the European Union.

Another development is even more astonishing: the beginning of the end of a long-standing animosity.

Just as Germany and France improved relations after World War II and then became friends, the same progression also seems possible between Germany and Poland today. Berlin is already Warsaw's biggest trading partner. The reciprocal relationship is moving away from that of Poland serving as Germany's factory, with its cheap labor force, toward a more equitable division of labor. In the border region, Polish workers are no longer the only ones crossing the border for cleaning jobs and to cut asparagus. Germans are now searching for more attractive jobs on the Polish side. Leszek Balcerowicz, one of the fathers of the Warsaw reforms, says self-confidently that his country should set itself a new goal: "To overtake Germany."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Kinsey's Secret: The Phony Science of the Sexual Revolution (Sue Ellin Browder, May 28, 2012, Crisis)

If truth be told, the revolution has been a disaster. Before the push to loosen America's sexual mores really got under way in the 1950s, the only widely reported sexually transmitted diseases in the United States were gonorrhea and syphilis. Today we have more than two dozen varieties, from pelvic inflammatory disease (which renders more than 100,000 American women infertile each year) to AIDS (which presently infects 42 million people worldwide and has already killed another 23 million). According to a report by scientists at the National Cancer Institute, a woman who has three or more sex partners in her lifetime increases her risk of cervical cancer by as much as 1,500 percent. In another finding that runs contrary to all that the sex researchers preached, a survey at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center showed that married men and women, on average, are sexually happier than unwed couples merely living together. And even if live-in couples do marry, they're 40 to 85 percent more likely to divorce than those who go straight to the altar.

So what happened? Was science simply wrong? Well, not exactly -- the truth is more complicated than that.

Alfred C. Kinsey had a secret. The Indiana University zoologist and "father of the sexual revolution" almost single-handedly redefined the sexual mores of everyday Americans. The problem was, he had to lie to do it. The weight of this point must not be underestimated. The science that launched the sexual revolution has been used for the past 50 years to sway court decisions, pass legislation, introduce sex education into our schools, and even push for a redefinition of marriage. Kinseyism was the very foundation of this effort. If his science was flawed -- or worse yet, an outright deception -- then our culture's attitudes about sex are not just wrong morally but scientifically as well.

,,,is that folks who oppose tobacco use because of the health risks endorse homosexuality despite equally catastrophic costs to the users.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Hope: The Sequel: For Obama & Co., this time around it's all about fear. (John Heilemann, May 27, 2012, New York)

Obama's first chance to test-drive his new approach was the speech he delivered to a joint session of Congress soon after returning from the Vineyard. The address was intended to plump for a jobs bill designed, at the president's specific instruction, without regard for its chances of passage. "I want to put forward what I think the right thing to do is," Obama told his team. "I don't want this to be a legislative compromise. We're not going to negotiate with ourselves. We're not interested in the possible but in what should be."

For Obama, the speech proved to be a turning point, politically and personally. "From that moment on, there's been a sense of liberation about him," says a confidant of the president. "He'd had enough."

A cynic might say that the liberation Obama feels is the freedom from, you know, actually governing. 

Which is why he never achieved anything as a legislator and will leave the presidency having no left no discernible mark upon the country. He's been a placeholder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


Paying his respects: At Mass. National Cemetery, groundsman serves his countrymen (Thomas Caywood, May 29, 2006, Boston Herald)

Morris Monette Jr. of Falmouth never stormed a beach or waded through a rice paddy under fire.

But the 38-year-old Massachusetts National Cemetery groundskeeper knows about the sacrifice of veterans. He's dug graves for thousands of American heroes in his eight years tending the leafy Bourne burial ground.

Monette has stood shivering on raw January mornings sawing grave sites out of the frozen earth with a trenching machine. He's planted flowerbeds to beautify the final resting place of more than 40,000 veterans and their spouses.

"My father, all my uncles were in the service," Monette said yesterday as he directed Memorial Day traffic through the winding roads of the 749-acre cemetery.

Friends ask how he can work with a sea of the dead under his feet. He says that digging and filling graves day after day has mostly anesthetized him to the melancholy wafting over the grassy meadows.

Even so, Monette admits that burying Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Ford of New Bedford in late April got to him. "He was only 19. He was never married or had any kids. That bothered me," he said.

Ford was killed by a roadside bomb after only a month in Iraq's bloody Al Anbar province.

Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Gallagher of Fairhaven, 27, also was buried at the Bourne cemetery last month. He was killed in a truck rollover in Iraq.

"I try not to think about it too much," Monette said.

We all try not to, which is why Memorial Day is worthwhile.

(Originally posted: 5/29/06)

May 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


PSA Testing, Like a Lot of Other Procedures, May Do More Harm Than Good (Casey Schwartz and Clark Merrefield, May 26, 2012, Daily Beast)

Avoidable care is an issue the medical profession has been aware of for decades. But until recently, physicians who have tried to talk about the problem have not found a receptive audience, even among fellow physicians. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Dr. Bernard Lown recalled a lecture he delivered in New York City 30 years ago to 600 physicians (including a "good sprinkling" of heart specialists, he said). Lown, whose International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, asked how many of the doctors in the room who ordered coronary bypass surgery had told their patients the procedure would not prolong their lives. Most of the doctors bowed their heads a bit and looked about. Nobody raised a hand. The paramount motive for unnecessary bypass surgeries was profit, Lown explained in the interview at his home in Chestnut Hill, Mass. But another key component, he said, was cultural. 
"It's the way we train people in medical school and the way we indoctrinate them in hospitals. It's the way you want to do something that is decisive. When you're a young person, you cannot tolerate uncertainty, and when you get older you learn that you have to live by it," Lown said. "The bypass, the stent, is a definite answer to a problem, you have it done and it's over, it's ended--that ain't so. A patient still has coronary disease, he still has risk factors, and the lifestyle that brought him to the doctor in the first place will bring him to the doctor a second and third time." 
Research today continues to confirm what some doctors recognized decades ago: widespread, expensive procedures exist that show no benefit for the patient. The price tag for hospitalization after a coronary-disease diagnosis is more than $16,000 (PDF), and more than 400,000 angioplasties are performed each year on stable patients. But a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that for patients with stable coronary-artery disease, the current medical therapies--such as aspirin, beta-blockers, ACE-inhibitors, and statins--don't reduce death rate, chest pain, and other cardiac events any better when combined with stent angioplasty. It is the first research to look at the outcomes of patients who received modern angioplasties. In short, the study found that adding an invasive, expensive procedure to prescribed therapy regimens has no apparent benefit. According to the study, up to 76 percent of stable patients can avoid angioplasties, with nearly $10,000 per patient in lifetime health-care cost savings.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Sen. Graham: Jeb Bush is best possible pick to be Romney's running mate (Alexander Bolton - 05/20/12, The Hill)

Jeb Bush's name keeps floating up in discussions about candidates to run on the ticket with Mitt Romney, despite Bush's efforts to douse the talk.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says Bush would most help Romney.

"He'd be an outstanding pick. It's up to Gov. Romney but if I had to recommend a single person it would be Jeb," Graham told The Hill.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM

Let's Be Less Productive (TIM JACKSON, 5/27/12, NY Times)

Productivity -- the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy -- is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money. The quest for increased productivity occupies reams of academic literature and haunts the waking hours of C.E.O.'s and finance ministers. Perhaps forgivably so: our ability to generate more output with fewer people has lifted our lives out of drudgery and delivered us a cornucopia of material wealth.

But the relentless drive for productivity may also have some natural limits. Ever-increasing productivity means that if our economies don't continue to expand, we risk putting people out of work. If more is possible each passing year with each working hour, then either output has to increase or else there is less work to go around. 

The only question is whether we want government to intervene and make the economy less productive so that we can redistribute less wealth inefficiently via makework jobs or whether we want to maximize the productivity of the economy and then use government to redistribute the greater wealth created. 

May 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


REVIEW: of The Social Conquest of Earth By Edward O Wilson (Richard Dawkins, MAY 24, 2012,  Prospect)

When he received the manuscript of The Origin of Species, John Murray, the publisher, sent it to a referee who suggested that Darwin should jettison all that evolution stuff and concentrate on pigeons. It's funny in the same way as the spoof review of Lady Chatterley's Lover, which praised its interesting "passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper" but added:

"Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book can not take the place of JR Miller's Practical Gamekeeping."

I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson's latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory. In particular, Wilson now rejects "kin selection" (I shall explain this below) and replaces it with a revival of "group selection"--the poorly defined and incoherent view that evolution is driven by the differential survival of whole groups of organisms.

...Darwin and the Darwinists wouldn't have embarrassed themselves so much.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


PSA test part of trend: Fewer screenings for well people (Liz Szabo, 5/26/12, USA TODAY)
People are taking a closer look not just at cancer screenings, but at all medical tests and procedures, says Steven Woloshin, co-director of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Concern about "overtesting" and "overtreating" patients is growing because of a rising recognition that these interventions often have risks and serious side effects.

"There is something going on, not just in cancer," Woloshin says. "There is some sort of shift, and it's encouraging. It feels like this is the beginning of a sea change in attitudes towards testing, treating and overdiagnosis."
Doctors are taking a "less is more" approach on several fronts.

Last month, for example, nine physicians' groups launched the "Choosing Wisely" campaign to discourage 45 frequently overused tests and procedures. The groups, which included the American College of Cardiology, noted many common interventions are unnecessary, including stress tests during routine annual exams.

Many of these overused tests involve trying to "help the well stay well by looking for things to be wrong," says H. Gilbert Welch, a physician and author of Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


America Plods Forward, Much of the World Slows (IRWIN M. STELZER, 5/26/12, Weekly Standard)

Meanwhile, in America consumer sentiment is at its highest level in more than four years. The recovery plods on, probably at something like a historically low 2.2 percent growth rate, which many economists are guessing will step up to close to 3 percent by year-end. Oil prices are coming down. Manufacturing output is rising, and the growth is "relatively broad-based, with healthy gains in both consumer goods and business equipment," according to Goldman Sachs' economists. In part this reflects an emerging trend for production and jobs to return to the U.S. due to a combination of leaner and meaner, lower-cost manufacturing operations here, and rising labor costs in China and India. A survey by Accenture consultants found that 40 percent of companies moving manufacturing operations in the past two years had moved them to the U.S., compared with 28 percent who had moved facilities to China which, however, still tops America as the preferred location for new factories.

The housing sector seems finally to be in remission. Sales of both new and existing homes rose last month by 3.3 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, month-over-month. The supply of homes on the market is relatively low, and new home prices are up close to 5 percent compared with last year. This might be due to unaccounted for seasonal factors, but at worst it seems that new home prices have stabilized. Prices of existing homes also rose, but more modestly.

Housing starts are up, and the National Association of Home Builders reports that builders are cheerier than they have been since the housing recovery started. 

...the historical importance of this election lies almost exclusively in which party gets credit for the Peace Dividend-driven boom and the incipient Third Way reforms.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Four witnesses in Trayvon Martin case change their stories (Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, May 25, 2012, LA Times)

Evidence released last week in the second-degree murder case against George Zimmerman shows four key witnesses made major changes in what they say they saw and heard on the rainy February night when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Three changed their stories in ways that could damage Zimmerman. One man who initially told police Martin was atop Zimmerman punching him "MMA-style" -- a reference to Mixed Marital Arts -- later said he was no longer sure about the punches. The teenager may have simply been keeping Zimmerman pinned to the ground, he said.

A fourth witness abandoned her initial story -- that she saw one person chasing another. Now she says she saw a single figure running.

Witnesses ought not be allowed in court rooms.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


READY, FIRE, AIM: TEAM OBAMA'S REPUTATION IS VASTLY OVERRATED (Matthew Continetti - May 25, 2012, Washington Free Beacon)

We are rapidly approaching the moment at which Washington reevaluates the Obama campaign's reputation for competence and expertise. Every week, one or several of Obama's surrogates trip over their own words; every day, Jim Messina and David Plouffe and David Axelrod must scratch their heads in wonder at the mess they are creating. One gaffe is an isolated event. Two is an embarrassment. But three or more form a pattern, one that is damaging not only Obama's precarious chances for reelection but also the fortunes of the Democratic Party. [...]

Not even MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell could reconcile the war on Bain with the fact that Obama has taken more than $200,000 from the likes of Bain Capital managing Director Jonathan Lavine, not to mention tens of thousands from Landmark Partners Chairman Francisco Borges. The man would not even be president without the longstanding support of Chicago's Pritzker family, which knows something about, in the words of Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.), "raping companies and leaving them in debt."

The hypocrisy runs to the staffing decisions Obama makes. His White House is stuffed with Wall Street types. Two corporate buyout specialists sit on the president's job council. All three of his chiefs of staff have worked for financial houses. His small business administrator worked in private equity. His former chief technology officer left to join a private equity firm. His former communications director Anita Dunn left the White House and promptly offered her services to protect the private equity executives she had attacked while in government. And yet the president is happy to run unseemly ads arguing private equity firms are job-destroying "vampires" that "suck the life" out of other companies and profit from their demise. Indeed, he informed the country Monday that Romney's private sector career "is what this campaign is going to be about."

Really? Obama may spend close to a billion dollars demonizing Bain, only to find that when the national exit poll comes out the night of November 6, "private equity" will not rank at the top of the public's priorities. There is also a larger danger with shifting the focus of the campaign to such ancillary topics as whether private equity is good or bad: When you run a tactical campaign that targets the news cycle, you run the risk of having the attacks backfire. That is exactly what happened in the case of Booker, and what has happened in other cases as well.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


My break with the extreme right: I worked for Reagan and wrote for National Review. But the new hysterical right cares nothing for truth or dignity (MICHAEL FUMENTO, 5/24/12, Salon)

[N]ow I find myself linked not only with the Unabomber, but also Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Or so says the Chicago-based think tank the Heartland Institute, for which I've done work. Heartland erected billboards depicting the above three declaring: "I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?" Climate scientists now, evidently, share something in common with dictators and mass murderers. Reportedly bin Laden was scheduled to make such an appearance, too.

You see, I've published articles saying I do "believe in global warming." Yes, I've also questioned the extent to which man-made gases have contributed to that warming and concluded that expenditures to reduce those emissions would be as worthless as they'd be horrifically expensive. No matter; just call me "Ted." Or "Charlie." Or "Fidel."

This is nuts! Literally. As in "mass hysteria." That's a phenomenon I wrote about for a quarter-century, from the heterosexual AIDS "epidemic" to the swine flu "pandemic" that killed vastly fewer people than seasonal flu, to "runaway Toyotas." Mass hysteria is when a large segment of society loses touch with reality, or goes bonkers, if you will, on a given issue - like believing that an incredibly mild strain of flu could kill eight times as many Americans as normal seasonal flu. (It killed about a third as many.) [...]

A single author, Ann Coulter, has published best-selling books accusing liberals, in the titles, of being demonic, godless and treasonous. Michelle Malkin, ranked by the Internet search company PeekYou as having the most traffic of any political blogger, routinely dismisses them as "moonbats, morons and idiots." Limbaugh infamously dispatched a young woman who expressed her opinion that the government should provide free birth control as a "slut" and a "prostitute."

As a conservative, I disagree with the political opinions of liberals. But to me, a verbal assault indicates insecurity and weakness on the part of the assaulter, as in "Is that the best they can do?" This playground bullying - the name-calling, the screaming, the horrible accusations - all are intended to stifle debate, the very lifeblood of a democracy.

Meanwhile, these people who practice shutting down the opposition through shouts and smears accuse President Obama of having dictatorial dreams? A recent email I received, based on accusations from umpteen right-wing groups, blared in caps-lock fury: "BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA HAS SIGNED A MARTIAL LAW EXECUTIVE ORDER!" This specific message, from a group calling itself, goes on: "THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! BARACK OBAMA IS TRYING TO VIOLATE THE CONSTITUTION, BECOME A DICTATOR, AND TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS!"

Outrageous, indeed. Obama's order updated a National Defense Resource Preparedness act, which was essentially identical to one signed 19 years earlier and actually originated in 1950. It granted no authority to Obama that he did not already have under existing laws.

President Obama is regularly referred to as a Marxist/Socialist, Nazi, tyrant, Muslim terrorist supporter and - let me look this up, but I'll bet probably the antichrist, too. Yup, there it is! Over 5 million Google references. There should be a contest to see if there's anything for which Obama hasn't been accused. Athlete's foot? The "killer bees"? Maybe. In any case, the very people who coined and promoted such terms as "Bush Derangement Syndrome, Cheney Derangement Syndrome and Palin Derangement Syndrome" have been promoting hysterical attitudes toward Obama since before he was even sworn in.

No, I'm not cherry-picking. When I say "regularly referred to," interpret literally. Polls show that about half of voting Republican buy into the birther nonsense (one of the more prominent hysterias within the hysteria). Only about a fourth seem truly sure that Obama was actually born here. In her nationally syndicated column Michelle Malkin wrote regarding Limbaugh's slut remarks, that "I'm sorry the civility police now have an opening to demonize the entire right based on one radio comment." In a stroke she's expressed her disdain for civility and declared the new right's sins can be dispatched as an itsy-bitsy little single faux pas, "one radio comment."

No, Michelle, incivility - nay, outright meanness and puerility - rears its ugly head daily on your blog, which as I write this on May 23 has one item referring in the headline to "Pig Maher's boy [Bill Maher]" and another to "Jaczko the Jerk," [former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko]. She calls Limbaugh target Sandra Fluke a "femme-agogue" and her supporters "[George] Soros monkeys." Pigs? Monkeys? Moonbats? It's literal dehumanization.

Sure, there are enough hate-and-anger mongers on the left to go around. Among the worst was Keith Olbermann, who once called Malkin a "mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it." Very edifying, Keith! But as the Christian Science Monitor reported, his ratings recently collapsed from an average of 354,000 viewers a night when he debuted on Current TV, to 58,000 viewers by the first quarter of 2012. He was recently fired. Again. Air America was intended to counter right-wing talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh. I was on Al Franken's show while he made fun of a soldier from my first battle who is now permanently paralyzed. Touché, Al! But Air America also failed.

Malkin, who revels in playing the victim, says that she's been called all sorts of horrible things, many based on her Filipina heritage. But most of what she cites come from email or anonymous comments on blog sites. It wasn't usually from paid professionals with large audiences, like her, aimed at paid professionals like her. It's thus hard to compare with the host of the most popular talk show host in history taking shots at an unknown 22-year-old woman. (She's hardly that now; Limbaugh himself promoted her to a national spokeswoman.)

Incivility is hardly the domain of the new right. American society grows ever coarser. But this is cold comfort. Conservative ideology demands civility of conservatives; demands, yes, self-policing. Let others act as they will, bearing evidence of the shallowness of their positions. It also demands respect for official offices, such as the presidency. When our guy is in office, you give him that modicum of respect - and when your guy is in office, we do the same. The other party is to be referred to as "the loyal opposition," not with words the FCC forbids on the air.

It's not important that our opponents measure up to our standards, it is that our allies do.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


THE YANKEE COMANDANTE: A story of love, revolution, and betrayal. (David Grann, MAY 28, 2012, The New Yorker)

For a moment, he was obscured by the Havana night. It was as if he were invisible, as he had been before coming to Cuba, in the midst of revolution. Then a burst of floodlights illuminated him: William Alexander Morgan, the great Yankee comandante. He was standing, with his back against a bullet-pocked wall, in an empty moat surrounding La Cabaña--an eighteenth-century stone fortress, on a cliff overlooking Havana Harbor, that had been converted into a prison. Flecks of blood were drying on the patch of ground where Morgan's friend had been shot, moments earlier. Morgan, who was thirty-two, blinked into the lights. He faced a firing squad.

The gunmen gazed at the man they had been ordered to kill. Morgan was nearly six feet tall, and had the powerful arms and legs of someone who had survived in the wild. With a stark jaw, a pugnacious nose, and scruffy blond hair, he had the gallant look of an adventurer in a movie serial, of a throwback to an earlier age, and photographs of him had appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. The most alluring images--taken when he was fighting in the mountains, with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara--showed Morgan, with an untamed beard, holding a Thompson submachine gun. Though he was now shaved and wearing prison garb, the executioners recognized him as the mysterious Americano who once had been hailed as a hero of the revolution.

It was March 11, 1961, two years after Morgan had helped to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista, bringing Castro to power. The revolution had since fractured, its leaders devouring their own, like Saturn, but the sight of Morgan before a firing squad was a shock. In 1957, when Castro was still widely seen as fighting for democracy, Morgan had travelled from Florida to Cuba and headed into the jungle, joining a guerrilla force. In the words of one observer, Morgan was "like Holden Caulfield with a machine gun." He was the only American in the rebel army and the sole foreigner, other than Guevara, an Argentine, to rise to the army's highest rank, comandante.

After the revolution, Morgan's role in Cuba aroused even greater fascination, as the island became enmeshed in the larger battle of the Cold War. An American who knew Morgan said that he had served as Castro's "chief cloak-and-dagger man," and Time called him Castro's "crafty, U.S.-born double agent."

Now Morgan was charged with conspiring to overthrow Castro. The Cuban government claimed that Morgan had actually been working for U.S. intelligence--that he was, in effect, a triple agent. Morgan denied the allegations, but even some of his friends wondered who he really was, and why he had come to Cuba.

Before Morgan was led outside La Cabaña, an inmate asked him if there was anything he could do for him. Morgan replied, "If you ever get out of here alive, which I doubt you will, try to tell people my story." 

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May 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Enter the King Arthur Flour Dream Vacation sweepstakes.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Does Barack Obama Actually Want to Be Re-Elected? (May 25, 2012, US News)

In observing the first full month of the 2012 presidential election one question continues to creep up: Does the challenger Mitt Romney simply want the job more than the incumbent President Obama?

Watching the president speak, or to be accurate, campaign, on issues from the "Buffett rule" to Mitt Romney's career at Bain Capital to gay marriage, he simply does not appear to be engaged or enthusiastic. 

He was never engaged nor enthusiastic, but the response to him was.  Now that people see him for what he is--or, more accurately, for what he is not--what remains for them to respond to?

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Northeastern Democrats Jump Ship As Obama Blasts Bain Capital: Democrats who depend on Wall Street are uneasy with the president's line of attack (Matt Taylor, 5/25/12, Daily Beast)

"Northeastern Democrats are hiding" now that the Obama campaign has responded to the intra-party criticisms by redoubling its attacks on Romney's experience at Bain, said veteran New York Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "It's all about the money. The first rule of congressional service is get re-elected. And that means money." And the money, of course, is on Wall Street.

The criticisms began last week after the campaign debuted the first in what became a series of videos featuring workers laid off from businesses Bain had owned, and financier and former administration "Auto Czar" Steven Rattner called the line of attack "unfair." Then Booker, the rising Democratic star with close ties to billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chimed in on NBC's "Meet the Press." Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell followed up by calling the attacks "very disappointing."

"I get that some people just think the whole idea of private equity is bad and doesn't contribute. I'm just saying I'm not one of those people," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a close ally of the White House who's also worked with top Obama political advisor David Axelrod, told CNN Tuesday, keeping up the steady drumbeat of dissent. Boston has a robust financial industry that has found an ally in Republican Senator Scott Brown, whose work on their behalf during the Dodd-Frank fight has endeared him to Wall Street banks as well.

What's notable is that the UR's been in power four years but only opposes economic efficiency rhetorically and tactically.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Beware hidden costs as banks eye 'Grexit' (Gillian Tett, 5/24/12, Financial Times)

Earlier this month, I asked the leaders of a group of US-based companies what - if anything - they were doing to prepare for "Grexit", or a possible exit of Greece from the eurozone. The responses from the manufacturers were rather vague.

The bankers, however, were alarmingly precise: amid all the speculation about Grexit, they told me, banks are increasingly reordering their European exposure along national lines, in terms of asset-liability matching (ALM), just in case the region splits apart. Thus, if a bank has loans to Spanish borrowers, say, it is trying to cover these with funding from Spain, rather than from Germany. Similarly, when it comes to hedging derivatives and foreign exchange deals, or measuring their risk, Italian counterparties are treated differently from Finnish counterparties, say.

The halcyon days of banks looking on the eurozone as a single currency bloc are over; cross-border risk matters. To put it another way, while pundits engage in an abstract debate about a possible break-up, fracture has already arrived for many banks' risk management departments, at least when it comes to ALM in their eurozone books.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Struggles within a created world (IAIN SHEDDEN, 5/24/12, The Australian)

TO borrow a line from Prince, she's got the look -- and it's one she's not about to change. Janelle Monae likes a sharp suit so much that she has worn pretty much the same outfit for the past four years.

As she says: "You find a great look, you stick with it."

The 26-year-old Kansas-born singer is a good friend of the princely one, now on tour in Australia, but Monae is her own person, even if she cites Prince and artists from Lauryn Hill to Rachmaninov as influences.

Monae, who makes her Australian debut at Sydney's Vivid Live festival this weekend, likes also to be known as Cindi Mayweather, an alter-ego android based in the city of Metropolis, which has been the setting for Monae's entire musical output.

Her two releases so far, the 2007 EP Metropolis (The Chase Suite) and her 2010 debut album The Arch Android (Suites II and III) centre on a culture not too different from the one in the film that inspired it, Fritz Lang's 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis, although Monae says the film is only one influence on her work. Within the concept she has created a world of struggle between the haves and have-nots and has set herself up, lyrically at least, as a messianic saviour.

Set this to a musical backdrop that embraces soft soul, funk, hip-hop and pop and you have an intriguing hybrid, one that has earned her a Grammy nomination for the album and for one of the songs from it, the dance-friendly Tightrope.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Indians Feed the Monkeys, Which Bite the Hand (GARDINER HARRIS, 5/22/12, NY Times)

The first interloper stepped in front of her on the sidewalk and silently held up his hand. The second appeared behind her and beckoned for her bag. Maeve O'Connor was trapped.

Resistance would have been dangerous, so Ms. O'Connor handed it over. The two then sauntered arrogantly away. The whole encounter lasted no more than 15 seconds -- just one more coordinated mugging by rhesus monkeys in a city increasingly plagued by them.

"I had other bags with me, but they knew the bag that had the fresh bread in it," Ms. O'Connor said.

"They were totally silent, very quick and highly effective."

The monkey population of Delhi has grown so large and aggressive that overwhelmed city officials have petitioned India's Supreme Court to relieve them of the task of monkey control.

"We have trapped 13,013 monkeys since 2007," said R. B. S. Tyagi, director of veterinary services for Delhi's principal city government. Nonetheless, Delhi's monkey population has only increased.

The reason is simple: People feed them. Monkeys are the living representatives of the cherished Hindu god Hanuman, and Hindu tradition calls for feeding monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Dr. Tyagi expressed impatience with residents who feed the monkeys one day, then complain to the city when the monkeys steal their clothes on another day.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom: Quintessential Wes Anderson film takes on salvation and community. (David Roark,  5/25/2012, Christianity Today)

With a Wes Anderson film, there's always a sense that something isn't right--that what you're seeing couldn't be real. Like, why does everyone in The Royal Tenenbaums act as if they live in the 1970s? Or why is no one killed in the shootout between the pirates and Team Zissou in The Life Aquatic? Then there are the eccentric characters: the enthusiastic Max Fischer of Rushmore, the delusional Dignan in Bottle Rocket. Through his distinct style--and his meticulous, colorful visual aesthetic--Anderson typifies the words "unconventional" and "idiosyncratic." Still, surreal as his works might be, they couldn't be more real when it comes to reflecting human experience. Infused with hope and humanity, they connect with us and challenge our pessimistic perceptions of life.

Moonrise Kingdom epitomizes this paradox, right from the opening sequence.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Tel Aviv protest against African migrants turns violent  (JTA, 5/23/12) 

A demonstration in south Tel Aviv against illegal African migrants turned violent.

More than a thousand protesters gathered Wednesday in the Hatikvah neighborhood carrying signs reading "South Tel Aviv a refugee camp" and "Infiltrators, leave our home."

Protesters attacked African migrants who passed the demonstration, and smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants. They also set trash bins on fire and threw firecrackers at police, Ynet reported.

May 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Democrats' Wisconsin Worry: Some Fear Walker's Surviving Recall Would Boost GOP's Chances in November (COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON and LAURA MECKLER, 5/20/12, WSJ)

For the left-leaning groups that have spent months trying to oust Mr. Walker, a loss would be a deflating end to a process that began with unions and their allies gathering more than 900,000 signatures to force a recall.

From the start, some in the Democratic Party worried that a Wisconsin recall could drain needed resources, fire up the conservative base and ultimately make it more difficult for Mr. Obama to win the state. Mr. Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in 2008, and Wisconsin hasn't gone Republican in a presidential election since 1984. But last week's Marquette poll showed Messrs. Obama and Romney tied at 46%.

A senior official with the Romney campaign said that if Mr. Walker survives, the campaign would take a fresh look at the state. "If opportunity hits, we will capitalize," the official said.

"People are suddenly starting to talk about Wisconsin as a potential swing state, which was not the case even two weeks ago," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Top Democrats now say that when labor groups first raised the specter of a recall, the party's officials urged their allies in Wisconsin to reconsider. "We told them it was a bad, bad, bad idea," one Democratic official said.

A union official said both the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign expressed reservations. "I don't know that anyone was enthusiastic about it over there," the union official said.

Party leaders also counseled against pouring money into a contested primary ahead of the recall election, the Democratic official said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Red-Hued New Jersey? (Robert Costa, May 23, 2012, National Review)

A Fairleigh Dickinson poll released in May shows Menendez leading Kyrillos by nine points, 42 percent to 33 percent -- hardly a position of strength for an established senator. In the same poll, Menendez loses by seven points, 37 percent to 30 percent, against "someone else." Kyrillos, for his part, is unknown by 68 percent of voters. Once they get to know him, he predicts, he will rise. [...]

At the state level, Kyrillos chaired Romney's presidential campaign from 2007 to 2008, a time when most state politicos were supporting former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for the nomination. He has remained close with Romney since then, working as a behind-the-scenes booster in Trenton. An appreciative Romney hosted a big-dollar fundraiser for Kyrillos in late April.

Christie considers Kyrillos, a former state-party chair, his right-hand man in the state legislature. Kyrillos chaired Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign and frequently moonlighted as a Christie surrogate and senior adviser. "No one gave us a chance," Kyrillos says. "But Chris's race proved that a Republican can win in New Jersey, even when you're outspent."

Soon after, during Christie's rough-and-tumble budget fights with Democrats in 2010 and 2011, Kyrillos became one of Christie's top allies in the capitol. Bringing the fiscally conservative Christie ethos to the Beltway will be the focus of Kyrillos's campaign. "I won't be afraid to cast tough votes and make the tough decisions," he says. "We've got to find a way to fix the country."

"It's not an ideological or political problem that we have," Kyrillos says. "It's a math problem." He argues that "practical" conservatism can win in New Jersey this year. "We need an intellectually honest budget," he adds, noting that he generally supports the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan. "If we do nothing, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid won't be there for the people who need them."

Kyrillos has been endorsed by Christie, who helped his friend rake in more than $600,000 at a March event. He must wait, however, until primary day, June 5, to become the party's official nominee. He faces a trio of unknown conservative activists in the primary: Bader Qarmout, Rudy Rullo, and David Brown. But thanks to his Christie ties and tea-party outreach, Kyrillos has largely been able to coast.

In mid-April, Kyrillos gave a rousing speech at a well-attended tea-party rally in Philadelphia. He was warmly introduced there by tea-party favorite Anna Little, who earlier this year briefly entered the Senate race. "In New Jersey, we stopped borrowing, we cut spending, and we didn't raise taxes," Kyrillos told the cheering crowd. "It's not complicated, but Barack Obama and my opponent do not get it."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Engine Could Boost Fuel Economy by Half: Delphi says its diesel-like engine runs cleanly on gasoline. (KEVIN BULLIS, 5/17/12, Technology Review)

The Delphi technology is the latest attempt by researchers to combine the best qualities of diesel and gasoline engines. Diesel engines are 40 to 45 percent efficient in using the energy in fuel to propel a vehicle, compared to roughly 30 percent efficiency for gasoline engines. But diesel engines are dirty and require expensive exhaust-treatment technology to meet emissions regulations.

For decades, researchers have attempted to run diesel-like engines on gasoline to achieve high efficiency with low emissions. Such engines might be cheaper than hybrid technology, since they don't require a large battery and electric motor.

In conventional gasoline-powered engines, a spark ignites a mixture of fuel and air. Diesel engines don't use a spark. Instead, they compress air until it's so hot that fuel injected into the combustion chamber soon ignites. Several researchers have attempted to use compression ignition with gasoline, but it's proved challenging to control such engines, especially under the wide range of loads put on them as a car idles, accelerates, and cruises at various speeds.

Delphi's approach, which is called gasoline-direct-injection compression ignition, aims to overcome the problem by combining a collection of engine-operating strategies that make use of advanced fuel injection and air intake and exhaust controls, many of which are available on advanced engines today.

For example, the researchers found that if they injected the gasoline in three precisely timed bursts, they could avoid the too-rapid combustion that's made some previous experimental engines too noisy. At the same time, they could burn the fuel faster than in conventional gasoline engines, which is necessary for getting the most out of the fuel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


America's 21st-Century Population Edge: Birth rates are dropping all over the world, often below replacement rates. But not in the U.S. (BEN J. WATTENBERG, 5/23/12, WSJ)

Every other major modern nation and every developing country has low or falling birth rates. Japan and Poland see 1.3 children per woman, Brazil and China 1.9, Pakistan 3.6 (down from 6.6 three decades ago). American fertility rates are relatively high, at nearly 2.1.

Having children is an affirmative act, so it's little surprise that surveys--Gallup, Harris and others--show Americans to be the most optimistic nation in the world. (Israel, too, is an optimistic nation with a sense of mission and high birth rates.)

Then there's the effect of immigration. According to the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. takes in more immigrants than the rest of the world combined. Think Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, Andy Grove, Albert Pujols, Sergei Brin, I.M. Pei or David Hockney.

Drive in the suburbs and exurbs of many major American cities and you will see McMansion homes with three, four or even five children--McPlenty--unheard of anywhere else. American couples can choose to have many children because the U.S. is one of the world's few suburban nations. In suburban settings, some affluent parents are deciding that for a decade or so raising a large family is more important than having two earners.

All this and more yields an America that is projected to have 400 million people in 2050, up from 310 million today and possibly on the way to 500 million by 2100. This may not quite play out--immigration from Mexico will likely fall as Mexican fertility drops off--but the trend lines are far stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere.

And as the rest of the world tanks, the pull of the Anglosphere will only grow stronger.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Tar Trap? Charlotte Convention Could Backfire for Obama (Matt Taylor May 23, 2012, Daily Beast)

[W]hile polls show Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck-and-neck in the state, the president's choice to hold the convention there could come back to haunt him, given the convergence of angry labor unions, an unfortunately named venue, embarrassing local political scandals, Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the voters' decision this year to pass a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions.

Democrats will be deciding whether or not to add a party plank in line with Obama's personal declaration in support of gay marriage, which came just days after North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly against it. That vote led more than 30,000 people to quickly sign a petition from a New York-based marriage-equality group to move the convention elsewhere, though timing and logistics alone render that functionally impossible.

The president might be able to contain any bleeding of Southern white support in the wake of his move on gay marriage with aggressive populist rhetoric that makes the Democratic Party's base fire on all cylinders, said Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a strategist who has helped Democrats like John Edwards and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner hone their cultural appeals to rural Southerners.

"If Obama can strategically place himself as the anti-Wall Street candidate, then that far exceeds the gay question," said Saunders.

But the economic backdrop is far from ideal for the president looking to sell voters on the Obama recovery. North Carolina's unemployment rate has persistently been above the national average, at 9.4 percent last month, and Charlotte is the world headquarters of Bank of America, a bailed-out megabank so closely associated with the financial collapse of 2008 that Occupy Wall Street has devoted a campaign specifically to breaking it up. Protesters will be on the streets of Charlotte taking aim at the bank even as President Obama delivers his acceptance speech--at Bank of America Stadium. And labor unions are fuming that the convention is being held in a so-called right-to-work state (where union membership or dues cannot be required for employment).

May 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


The Emerging Democratic Divide (Josh Kraushaar, May 22, 2012, National Journal)

Conversations with liberal activists and labor officials reveal an unmistakable hostility toward the pro-business, free-trade, free-market philosophy that was in vogue during the second half of the Clinton administration. Former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, who tried to steer the Obama administration in a more centrist direction, is the subject of particular derision. Discussion of entitlement reforms, at the heart of the GOP governing agenda, is a nonstarter. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats are now nearly extinct on Capitol Hill.

Moderate Democratic groups and officials, meanwhile, privately fret about the party's leftward drift and the Obama campaign's embrace of an aggressively populist message. They're disappointed that the administration didn't take the lead advancing the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, they wish the administration's focus was on growth over fairness, and they are frustrated with the persistent congressional gridlock. Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, has been generating analyses underscoring the need for Democrats to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, to no avail.

"There are not a lot of moderates left in the Democratic Party, and Cory is one of the few of them left," said former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, an early Obama ally who has become increasingly estranged from the party. "I would like to think Cory speaks for a lot of voters in the Democratic Party, but sadly he doesn't speak for a lot of Democratic operatives within the party. This isn't Bill Clinton's Democratic Party anymore."

...drives the party in power towards its own margins.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Why we should expect Obama to lose Florida in 2012 (Jamelle Bouie, 5/23/12, Washington Post)

The latest poll from Quinnipiac University shows President Obama with a six-point deficit in Florida, 41 percent to Mitt Romney's 47 percent. Romney also gets much better ratings on the economy -- 50 percent say that the Republican is better able to handle the economy, compared to 40 percent for Obama. Forty-four percent say that they approve of the president's job performance, and his unfavorables have risen to 50 percent.

Predictably, this poll has led to warnings of doom for President Obama. But I'm not too surprised by the outcome. Florida has only gone for the Democratic nominee in two of the last eight presidential elections -- Bill Clinton in 1996 with 48 percent of the vote, and Obama in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote. What's more, relative to their national vote totals, both presidents underperformed in Florida; Clinton by 1.2 percent and Obama by 1.9 percent.

Given Florida's demographics, it's not hard to understand why the Sunshine State is less-than-friendly territory for Democratic candidates. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM

60-40 NATION:

"Pro-Choice" Americans at Record-Low 41% (Lydia Saad, 5/23/12, Gallup)

Since 2001, the majority of Republicans have consistently taken the pro-life position, but by a gradually increasing margin over "pro-choice." That gap expanded further this year, with the percentage of Republicans identifying as pro-life increasing to 72% from 68% last May, and those identifying as pro-choice dropping to 22% from 28%. Still, Republicans' current views are similar to those found in 2009.

The percentage of political independents identifying as pro-choice is 10 points lower today than in May 2011, while the percentage pro-life is up by six points. As a result, pro-lifers now outnumber pro-choicers among this important swing political group for only the second time since 2001, with the first occurring in 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Romney Is Mormons' Path to the Christian Mainstream (Noah Feldman May 20, 2012, Bloomberg)

[T]he consequences of turning Mormonism into just another denomination are epochal for Mormons. The doctrine of "be careful what you wish for" certainly applies.

On the one hand, Mormons no doubt believe, with reason, that their evangelizing efforts will be enhanced by a broad public perception that they are Christian. After all, American Protestants change denominations with little frictional effect. If all are worshipping Christ, the mode of worship seems altogether secondary.

On the other hand, seen through the lens of history, entering the mainstream poses major risks. If Mormons think of themselves as another Christian denomination, the risk of defection rises. The distinctive Mormon beliefs in a new scripture and in the possibility of joining the supernal realm for eternal life will come into jeopardy precisely because they mark differences with the Protestant mainstream. If you believe you are not that different from others, there will be a tendency to downplay those practices and beliefs that suggest otherwise.

The great model for this assimilationist danger is the German political emancipation of the Jews, which directly led to Reform Judaism. Removing the perception that Jews were fundamentally outside Christian society was a tremendous sociological boon to the German Jewish community in the early 1800s. Entering the mainstream, however, encouraged Jews to adopt practices and beliefs that corresponded to the very "modern" world that was welcoming them.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Soccer in the Storm (Wayne Drehs, ESPN The Magazine)

The next morning, Bradley sits patiently at the Qatari airport waiting to board his flight home to Cairo when a stranger plops into the empty seat next to him, interrupts our conversation and hands Bradley his cell phone.

"What's this?" Bob asks.

"It's my friend," the Egyptian man eagerly explains. "Say hello."

Bradley shakes his head, rolls his eyes and grabs the man's phone. There's no catch. On the other end is simply some guy who can't believe he's talking to Bob Bradley.

"Shokron," Bradley says. "Shokron."

The conversation lasts for all of 20 seconds and throughout its entirety the man next to Bradley is glowing. When the call is over, he leaves. "You see this?" Bradley says. "This is what my life is like here."

It's been this way all day. When Bob steps off the team bus upon arriving at the airport, a man jumps in front of him and yells, "What about you? What about Egypt?" In the airport, another man stops Bradley to tell him he was at the game last night. "You should have had three goals," he says. A security guard then approaches, extends his hands and asks for a picture. "Must have," he says.

"They all say that," Bradley says.

After the photo, the man tells Bradley he hopes Egypt makes the World Cup but that the team will need to go through Tunisia to make it.

"So you're Tunisian?" Bradley asks.

"Yes," the man says.

A few seconds later, an Egyptian boy, no more than 8, stands next to Bradley and stares at him. He doesn't speak. He doesn't ask for a photo. He just stands there, completely still. Eventually, his eyes cross paths with Bradley's. The coach smiles. Nods. The boy sheepishly smiles back. And then he turns around and walks away. I mention how that's the first person I've seen recognize Bob and not ask for a photo. "No, he got one earlier by the bus," Bradley says.

This is Bradley's life. In Egypt, soccer is king. Egypt's friendly against Congo aired on 12 different channels. A 2011 study found the No. 1 reason for divorce in the country was husbands caring more about soccer than their wives. But because Bradley's predecessor was a Mubarak loyalist, hordes of fans lost interest in the national team. Bradley is trying to change that. He needs to change that. If he wants to make the World Cup dreams of the Egyptian people come true, he believes he needs the entire nation behind him and his team. So one fan at a time, one picture at a time, Bradley works like a politician in the stretch run before an election. He smiles. He laughs. He tries to speak in broken Arabic. He's not just a coach. He's become an ambassador.

In a way, it's a strange role for an American. According to the Pew Research Center, four out of five Egyptians have an unfavorable view of the United States, and more than half the country wishes it had fewer ties with America. And yet the man they all seem to want to meet is an American.

"At first, most people were like, 'We don't want no damn American,'" Abdel says. "They thought Bob was all about fitness. His teams won because they were in the best shape. But now they've gotten to see the man and know the man. And they love him. Now, he's a rock star. He's bigger than Obama."

The Egyptians have been particularly impressed about the way Bradley has handled the unstable post-revolution climate. After Port Said, he and Lindsay walked with thousands of Egyptians in Sphinx Square in honor of the victims, and he donated an undisclosed amount of money to the victims' families. He also publicly questioned the motives behind the attack, telling Al Jazeera English, "This wasn't just fans losing control. This has all the markings of a setup, of a massacre."

"I couldn't pretend this was something else," Bradley tells me. "It doesn't do anybody any good to just not say anything and pretend this stuff doesn't exist when everybody knows it does."

On multiple occasions, Bob and Lindsay have visited Children's Cancer Hospital of Egypt, also known as CCHE 57357. They've taped public-service announcements in English asking for donations while contributing an undisclosed amount themselves. They've also taken daughters Kerry, 23, and Ryan, 20, to the hospital to visit sick children. It's all opened the eyes of Middle Easterners everywhere.

"He's stepping into a mine field, but so far he has been on the right side with nearly everything he's done," says James Dorsey, a Middle East expert at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, "The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer." "This is unlike anything any American coach has ever experienced. It's not just football. It's not just team-building. There's so much more that comes into play. And he's performed well. He's pushing all the right buttons."

Bradley insists he isn't doing anything differently. He's just being himself. Lindsay agrees. He's always been this way. But I'm not so sure. At the very least, Bradley seems to be opening up more to the Egyptian people. When Kerry and Ryan visited from Southern California a few months ago, they saw shades of a new man as well, someone who rode a camel across the Egyptian desert and laughed when a street vendor shuffled hats on and off his head.

"It's opened him up a bit," Ryan says. "He's more open to different possibilities now."

"It brings out more of my dad's adventurous, free-spirited side," Kerry adds. "That's a good thing."
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Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Dump the pump: When oil will lose its lustre (David Strahan, 5/21/12, New Scientist)

PEOPLE have fretted about when the world's oil will start to run out ever since M. King Hubbert came up with the idea of "peak oil" back in the 1950s. The American geologist, who worked for Shell, pointed out that we are destined to reach a moment when oil production stops rising and goes into terminal decline. With it, the era of cheap oil that fuelled the post-war economic boom would end. The idea still provokes great debate, and many forecasters are predicting that global production will peak by the end of this decade as supplies dwindle.

Now there is a different view. A small number of analysts forecast that oil production will start to fall by 2020 - not because we are running out, but because we just won't need it.

They argue that the world will wean itself off oil voluntarily, through major advances in vehicle technology. Peak oil will not be a supply-side phenomenon brought about by shrinking reserves, but by motorists buying electric cars and conventional cars with highly efficient engines. If they are right, this shift will start the long-term transition from oil to electricity as the main transport fuel, reduce economies' vulnerability to spikes in the oil price, and cap greenhouse emissions from crude oil. [...]

Investment analysts at Deutsche Bank in New York argue in a series of reports that the electric vehicle is a disruptive technology and its short-term potential is widely underappreciated. "Transportation is likely to change more in the next 10 years than over the last 50," says Dan Galves, the bank's chief car-industry analyst. That's not because of some imminent technological breakthrough, but because he expects that the relative costs of electric and petrol cars will soon be transformed.

Electric cars are far more expensive to buy than their petrol equivalents, largely because the cost of the lithium-ion battery that powers the vehicle is so high - currently about $12,000. But the fuel costs of electric vehicles are already far lower than for petrol-powered ones. In the US, for example, the petrol for an average car costs about 8 cents per kilometre, compared with less than 2 cents for the electricity to power an electric car. In Europe, where fuel tax is higher, the numbers are 12.5 cents and 2.5 cents, respectively. Either way, that is a huge gap. So for electric vehicles to compete on price, battery costs need only fall far enough to be swallowed by that gap, and Galves believes that it is likely to happen sooner than most people think.

First, he expects the costs of batteries to plummet as mass production ramps up - just as they did for laptops - to less than $7000 by 2015. Second, the gap is likely to widen with most analysts expecting oil prices to keep rising. "On a 10-to-15-year view, it's almost impossible for electrification not to carve out a decent portion of the market," says Galves, who expects electric vehicles to be economic within a decade even without the subsidies that many governments currently give.

The effect of falling electric vehicle costs will be reinforced by strengthening fuel efficiency and emissions policies in the world's most important car markets. The policies of the world's biggest gas guzzler will soon be among the toughest. In 1975, US president Jimmy Carter passed a law forcing vehicle manufacturers in the US to meet average fuel efficiency standards. For cars, that number has languished at around 27 miles per gallon (11.5 kilometres per litre) since the early 1990s, but recent legislation means average fuel economy must double to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The standard has been rising since 1978, and by 2020 the targets become so demanding, says Galves, that car manufacturers will not be able to meet them without selling a significant number of electric vehicles. Galves expects them to make up a fifth of US car sales in 2020.

The impact will be dramatic. Every day, US vehicles guzzle about 9 million barrels of oil - the biggest single element in our daily global consumption of almost 90 million barrels (see chart). Deutsche Bank oil analysts expect US petrol consumption to plummet, almost halving by 2030.

The story is the same in the European Union, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre rather than miles per gallon (see chart). Cars manufactured there in 2020 must reduce their average emissions by more than a quarter compared with models made in 2015. Such standards will especially encourage electrification because they govern "tailpipe" emissions pumped out in the day-to-day running of car engines and not those emitted while they are being built. By this measure, electric vehicles are zero emission. Deutsche Bank expects them to make up 25 per cent of Europe's car sales in 2020, accelerating the decline in demand for petrol.

May 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Ky. sends message with Presidential primary vote (WKYT, 5/22/12)

Rather than vote for Obama -- the only Democrat on Kentucky's primary ballot -- almost 40 percent of Democratic voters selected "uncommitted," according to statewide vote totals from Associated Press shortly before 8 p.m.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Artur Davis Considering Congressional Bid In Virginia -- As A Republican (Rosie Gray, 5/22/12, BuzzFeed)

Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama, is considering running for a House seat in Virginia as a Republican, according to a source close to Davis, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Alabama in 2010.

Davis is toying with the idea of challenging Democrat Gerry Connolly's for his seat in Virginia's Washington, D.C. suburbs in 2014, the source said; he's also been encouraged to run for a seat in the Virginia legislature in 2013 or 2015. And if Davis runs, he is likely to do so as a Republican, the source said. [...]

 Davis told BuzzFeed yesterday that "a right of center point of view has no home in the Democratic Party today" and "I no longer feel a home there."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Poll: Obama, Romney in dead heat on economy (Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, 5/22/12, Washington Post)

[I]t is a rearview-mirror assessment that could hurt Obama's chances for a second term. One key indicator has hardly budged this year: Asked where they stand financially compared with when Obama took office in January 2009, 30 percent say they are worse off, and only 16 percent say they are better off. There is not a widespread sense that things would be better had Romney been president for the past three-plus years, but for the incumbent it is a critical measure. On this question, Obama's numbers continue to resemble those of George H.W. Bush, who lost his bid for reelection in 1992 amid a flagging economy.

Voters are evenly divided between Obama and Romney on the question of who could kick-start the economy and also are split on job creation, with 46 percent siding with the president and 45 percent with Romney.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The Fight Over Who Fights in Israel (JODI RUDOREN, 5/19/12, NY Times)

[T]he battle over the draft is really a proxy for a more fundamental fight over Israeli identity itself, a cleavage here that some see as a far greater threat to the future of the state than its external enemies.

Haredim currently make up about 9 percent of the population, but by some estimates collect as much as half of the welfare payments -- yeshiva students get subsidies, and many depend also on public housing, as well as direct payments for the poor. Work force participation among Haredi men is about 35 percent, and their schools emphasize Torah study at the expense of math, English and science. Astronomical fertility makes the situation all the more dire: by 2030, one demographer recently estimated, this impoverished, ghettoized community will be close to a quarter of the Israeli population, something virtually everyone sees as unsustainable.

The resentment, even demonization, of Haredim is deep and growing, most profoundly among the strictly observant Jews known here as Modern Orthodox or National Religious. In Ramot, an elegant area of East Jerusalem, and in the exploding city of Beit Shemesh, many of these religious Jews -- people whose children study in yeshivas before and after their army tours; people who find time to study Torah as an avocation alongside serious careers; in some cases men so religious they do not shake hands with women -- talk about having to leave their beloved neighborhoods because the Haredim are taking over. What to think, as Zehava Alon, a leader of the universal-draft movement put it, of a state where "there is a law that says our kids' blood is less valuable"?

Menachem Friedman, professor emeritus of sociology at Bar Ilan University, said, "That in the Jewish state, people will consider the ultra-Orthodox as 'the enemy' is a tragic thing.

"Most of the people hate the Haredim," he added. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Why China Won't Rule (Robert Skidelsky, May. 21, 2012, Project Syndicate)

The sensible question, then, is not whether China will replace the US, but whether it will start to acquire some of the attributes of a world power, particularly a sense of responsibility for global order.

Even posed in this more modest way, the question does not admit of a clear answer. The first problem is China's economy, so dynamic on the surface, but so rickety underneath.

The analyst Chi Lo lucidly presents a picture of macro success alongside micro failure. The huge stimulus of RMB4 trillion ($586 billion) in November 2008, mostly poured into loss-making state-owned enterprises via directed bank lending, sustained China's growth in the face of global recession. But the price was an increasingly serious misallocation of capital, resulting in growing portfolios of bad loans, while excessive Chinese household savings have inflated real-estate bubbles. Moreover, Chi argues that the crisis of 2008 shattered China's export-led growth model, owing to prolonged impairment of demand in the advanced countries.

China now urgently needs to rebalance its economy by shifting from public investment and exports towards public and private consumption. In the short run, some of its savings need to be invested in real assets abroad, and not just parked in US Treasuries. But, in the longer term, Chinese households' excessive propensity to save must be reduced by developing a social safety net and consumer credit instruments.

Moreover, to be a world economic power, China requires a currency in which foreigners want to invest. That means introducing full convertibility and creating a deep and liquid financial system, a stock market for raising capital, and a market rate of interest for loans. And, while China has talked of "internationalizing" the renminbi, it has done little so far. "Meanwhile," writes Chi, "the dollar is still supported by the strong US political relations with most of the world's largest foreign-reserve-holding countries." Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all shelter under the US military umbrella.

The second problem is one of political values. China's further "ascent" will depend on dismantling such classic communist policy icons as public-asset ownership, population control, and financial repression. The question remains how far these reforms will be allowed to go before they challenge the Communist Party's political monopoly, guaranteed by the 1978 constitution.

The only things China exports are products that we design but allow them to assemble cheaply.  Most significantly, it has no culture to export and its future depends on importing ever more of our culture.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Our cooling love affair with driving (Charles Lane, 5/21/12, Washington Post)

Good news for Memorial Day weekend: Since peaking at a national average of $3.93 on April 5, the price of regular gasoline has fallen almost 25 cents per gallon. That's like a $25 billion tax cut for consumers. In fact, gasoline is cheaper now than it was a year ago at this time. Futures markets are signaling further possible declines. [...]

Meanwhile, gasoline demand in April was down by more than four percentage points from a year earlier, according to consumer spending data assembled by MasterCard. Yet other retail spending held up. Apparently, people coped with higher gas prices by staying home and shopping online rather than driving to the store.

If this trend persists, it would not be the only way in which technology is changing U.S. gasoline consumption.

Getting a driver's license is no longer the rite of passage it once was. (I was thrilled when I got mine in the late '70s, and so was Dad, because it meant someone else could take the car to wait in the gas lines.) Only 28.7 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2010, down from 44.7 percent in 1988. The decline in teen driving may reflect not only safety and economic concerns but also the impact of cell phone technology, which makes it easier for youngsters to stay in touch without actually, er, touching.

More broadly, Americans just seem to be driving less, after decades in which the trend was up, up, up. As Rob Puentes and Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institution have shown, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita began to level off in 2000 -- while the economy was still booming and gas was relatively cheap. VMT per capita in 2011 was roughly 9,500 miles, about the same as in 1997.

American car-ownership and driving expanded rapidly after 1960 because of suburban sprawl, the entry of millions of women into the workforce and the emergence of a black middle class. Those social and demographic transformations have largely worked their way through the system, Puentes told me.

America's love affair with the car may never end. But it does seem to be cooling down; it's more like a stable marriage than a red-hot romance.

May 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


The End of the Jewish Left: Political theorist Michael Walzer and others argue about the death of the century-long Jewish-Leftist alliance (Adam Kirsch, May 16, 2012, Tablet)

Looked at another way, however, the softening mainstream liberalism of American Jews can be seen as the feeble remnant of what was once a fiery and uncompromising leftism. Indeed, as historian Tony Michels said at the YIVO conference, the history of American Communism "cannot be understood without Jews." But the mood of the conference was best summed up in the title of the keynote address, by the political philosopher Michael Walzer: "The Strangeness of Jewish Leftism." What was once a proud inheritance now seems like a problem in need of a solution. For many Jews, it remains axiomatic that Judaism is a religion of social justice and progress; the phrase "tikkun olam" has become a convenient shorthand for the idea that Judaism is best expressed in "repair of the world."

In his speech, and in his new book In God's Shadow: Politics and the Hebrew Bible, Walzer offers a contrary vision of traditional Judaism, which he argues "offers precious little support to left politics"--a truth that he recognized would surprise those who, like himself, "grew up believing that Judaism and socialism were pretty much the same thing." If a leftist political message cannot readily be found in the traditions of Judaism, it follows that the explosion of Jewish leftism in the late 19th century was actually a rupture with Jewish history, and potentially a traumatic one.


Walzer's reluctance to associate Judaism too simply with leftist politics, or indeed with any politics, represents a break from his earlier thinking. In his influential 1985 book Exodus and Revolution, for instance, Walzer argued that the Exodus narrative had provided a template for generations of revolutionaries and progressives in Western society, offering a model of how to escape an oppressive past and create a better future. The contrast with his new book could not be sharper. In this work, Walzer reads the Bible with an eye to its explicit and implicit teachings about politics and finds that its most eloquent message on the subject is silence. "The political activity of ordinary people is not a Biblical subject," he writes, "nor is there any explicit recognition of political space, an agora or forum, where people congregate to argue about and decide on the policies of the community."

Coming from Walzer, who co-edited a multivolume treatise on "The Jewish Political Tradition," and who has been one of the leading theorists of mainstream left-liberalism for decades, this emphasis on the antipolitical nature of the Bible is striking. In his YIVO speech, he listed six central features of traditional Judaism that made it a conservative force, including the very idea of Jews as a chosen people--an idea that cannot easily be made to harmonize with universalism and egalitarianism.

Where the Greek tradition made room for public decision-making, Walzer argues, the same space in the Bible is filled entirely by God: All historical and legal initiatives must come from the deity, or appear to do so. In fact, the Pentateuch contains three separate legal codes, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, which contradict one another in many details and clearly were written by different groups of Israelites at different times. But because of the pious fiction that all these laws came from the same God, it was impossible for the legal deliberations that created them to become public; the lawmakers hid themselves behind a divine facade. They were, Walzer writes, "the secret legislators of Israel," and as long as legislation remains secret, it cannot be truly political.

The same principle holds true of the later history of the Israelite kingdom. Much of In God's Shadow deals with the ambiguous status of the prophet in the polity of ancient Israel. When contemporary liberals and leftists want to anchor their beliefs in Jewish tradition, it is to the prophets that they most often turn: the scathing denunciations of Amos and Jeremiah, the messianic vision of Isaiah. "We have a picture in our mind of the people described by Amos," Walzer writes. "They are, so to speak, the local bourgeoisie," and Amos speaks for the Israelite proletariat.

But if you look at the actual content of the prophets' message, Walzer points out, its political bearing is not so clear. "Theirs was ... a fiercely antipolitical radicalism," he writes, which had little to say about the power structures of Israelite society. Indeed, one of the themes of In God's Shadow is that the writers of the Bible were so uninterested in politics that they included remarkably little information about how the Israelites were actually governed on a day-to-day basis--almost everything we can say about the functions of kings, judges, and royal officials is speculative. When the prophets called for justice, they didn't mean a redistribution of power but a society-wide submission to God: "God's message overrode the wisdom of men."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Obama Campaign Does Damage Control After Dems Question Anti-Bain Strategy (Devin Dwyer, 5/21/12, ABC News)

The Obama campaign is in full damage-control mode one day after Newark Mayor Cory Booker publicly derided Democrats' assault on presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney over his record at Bain Capital. [...]

Booker is not the only Democrat to question the aggressive, negative portrayal of Romney's work in private equity.  Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. said today he agreed with "the substance" of Booker's comments and "would not have backed out."

"I agree with him, private equity is not a bad thing. Matter of fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances," the Democrat said in a separate appearance on MSNBC earlier in the day.

Former Obama administration economic adviser Steven Rattner made similar comments last week, calling a new Obama campaign TV ad attacking Romney's role in the bankruptcy of a Bain-owned steel company "unfair."

"Bain Capital's responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to create profits for its investors," Rattner said.  "'It did it superbly well, acting within the rules, acting very responsibly. ... This is part of capitalism, this is part of life. I don't think there's anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Men Should Skip Common Prostate Test, Panel Says (JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN, 5/21/12, WSJ)

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended a "D" grade for prostate-specific-antigen, or PSA, testing which has been widely used for almost two decades to screen men for prostate cancer. Previously the task force had recommended against PSA testing for men age 75 and older. Now the recommendation extends to all ages.

A "D" rating means "there is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits," the group's website says. It also is a recommendation "against the service."

The Task Force report, published Monday online in Annals of Internal Medicine, said PSA screening detects many asymptomatic or slow-growing cases of cancer that won't cause men any problems in their lifetimes. Treatments for those cancers can include surgery and radiation and can cause side effects such as impotence or urinary incontinence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


George Romney for President, 1968: When the governor of Michigan ran for the Republican nomination, in 1968, he tried to stand up against the more radical wing of his party. His defeat was swift, tragic, and, for his son, instructive. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, May 20, 2012, New York)

If you forget for a moment the scrim of weirdness that shades even the word Mormon--the underwear, the rites, the space-alien temples, the fact that before a 19-year-old George Romney was sent on his mission he was taken inside the Salt Lake City temple and stripped and doused with anointing oils--what you are left with is a system of belief in which America itself is hallowed. Not just the abstract ideas of freedom, liberty, and self-determination, but the design of the country is believed by Mormons to be divinely inspired: the Constitution, the separation of legislative and executive powers, even the structure of the American corporation. Jesus appeared, in the Mormon tradition, not in Jerusalem or Rome but upstate New York. The most mundane spots on the map of American suburban sprawl are empowered and made holy: Palmyra, New York; Kirtland, Ohio; Nauvoo, Illinois.

Until early in the twentieth century, Mormons had a unique, supplicating position toward the United States: They believed the country had been touched by God, and it disdained them as members of a dangerous sect. It was in George Romney's generation--and this is in some ways the story of George Romney's own life--that Mormon culture remade itself, from an outlaw sect into the most buoyantly, enthusiastically American thing going.

George Romney was born in 1907 in a Mormon colony in Mexico, where his grandfather had moved the family two decades earlier after the American government outlawed polygamy. (George's parents were monogamous.) Around his 5th birthday, the colony was ransacked by Mexican revolutionaries, and the family, returning to the U.S., effectively became nomads while his father chased work as a builder. By the time he was in the sixth grade, George had attended six elementary schools; the lowest point came in Idaho, when the family's failed attempt at potato farming barely got them through the year. As a 12-year-old, George was already doing hard agricultural work, trimming the tops of sugar beets by hand.

In Romney's papers, archived in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, there is a long reminiscence he wrote about a trip he took back to the Mormon West with his father. George was 34 and already a success, and his essay reveals a tender nostalgia for rougher times. He recalled the polygamist families he'd known as a boy--the practice was "repugnant," but the families had "high character" and "unity." He visited the Mormon temple in St. George, Utah, and pronounced it as stylish as the White House. Traveling with his father, he thought about how frequently his family had been in "great distress," and how infrequently he had realized this at the time.

Mormons earn salvation, in part, through their deeds, and in this respect the religion is more like Catholicism than Protestantism. When scholars explain the extreme success some Mormons have had in business, they tend to emphasize this feature. But Matthew Bowman, a young historian at Hampden-Sydney College and the author of The Mormon People, thinks there is another implication, too. Institutions have an essential place in Mormon thought; they are the mechanisms by which the individual is transformed. In Romney's private correspondence this theme is vivid: Asked repeatedly by young men for his advice, he suggests they dedicate themselves to their church, to their professional organizations, to volunteerism. This was the sustaining idea of his life--that buying in would bring rewards.

There was always a purposefulness about Romney, an intensity to his ascent up the social ladder. At 17, he fell in love with Lenore LaFount, the strikingly beautiful daughter of a successful Mormon businessman. (One day, she would be offered a studio contract by MGM.) His pursuit was assiduous. In Scotland, serving a church mission, he deflected accusations that the Mormons were out to steal Scottish lassies by brandishing a picture of Lenore; rather than finishing college, he followed her to Washington, D.C., and took a job as a stenographer in Senator David Walsh's office to prove his dedication.

This won him Lenore (they would be married 64 years, and each morning he would place a fresh rose by her bedside); it also gave him a career. Soon, the Walsh job became a substantive staff position working on tariff policy, and from there he moved into a career as a lobbyist with Alcoa, and then went into the automotive industry. Three decades after his family went bust farming potatoes, Romney was overseeing Detroit's work for the war effort, and this, too, had for him an Evangelical tone; by 1942 he was sending enthusiastic dispatches back to church headquarters detailing the "many miracles" he was watching American industry achieve.

After the war, Romney was hired as an assistant to the president of what would become American Motors, and eventually became president himself. By the late fifties, convinced that Detroit was betting too heavily on expensive, unnecessarily large cars, Romney committed his company to a smaller, cheaper, more efficient model, the Rambler, and the resulting success landed him on the cover of Time. In front of Congress, he testified against the concentration of power in large companies and unions; in Detroit, he built the beginnings of a political career, working to reform the city's schools and, eventually, the Michigan constitution.

What was taking shape was his vision of a perfect society, one in which government need not intervene because the "independent sector"--community organizations, professional and religious groups, and American businesses--could fix social problems on their own. Whenever they were detailing a solution to a policy problem, Romney's aides learned to look first to these groups before turning to the government. He believed "that these contexts would help the individual, that they would give meaning," says De Vries. No one, after all, is more invested in a good elite than the outsider who has had to work to join it. "I think he believed that America would always work," De Vries says, "because America had always worked for him."

Summer, 1967.

The riot started Sunday at dawn in Detroit, July 23, 1967, after police tried to raid an unlicensed after-hours club, but it took several hours before it was clear that the crowds that gathered there, throwing bottles at the cops, were not going away. Romney's aides were soon driving down Interstate 696 from Lansing to Detroit, and as Bill Whitbeck arrived the streets were almost empty of cars. "Eerie," he remembers. From the freeway he could see smoke rising from the West Side, where the conflict had begun, but also from the East. As another group of aides inched along, trying to navigate the roadblocks, they noticed that the looting seemed strategic--some stores had been left alone while others on the same block had been emptied entirely. "We observed that we were the only white men in the area, driving," they would write in a memo. "We decided that it would be to our advantage to leave the vicinity as soon as possible."

Romney had been at home in Bloomfield Hills that first day, working on a foreign-policy speech, but in the evening he took a helicopter flight over the city to get a feel for the scale of the damage. The fires had spread over an area of eight square miles. Romney had asked a contingent of National Guardsmen to deploy to Detroit and stand by, but it wasn't clear whether these forces could contain the violence. When he held a press conference with the Detroit mayor after midnight, the two officials told reporters that "the difficulty" now consumed 139 square miles, and Romney told reporters he had called the attorney general to request federal reinforcements. "It is the only prudent thing to do," he said. But it was Lyndon Johnson's attorney general, and Romney was a political threat, and so Washington seemed to delay: First, Romney was told the request needed to be in writing; then, when he sent a telegram, that he had used the wrong language. Romney, furious, was convinced that the Democratic White House was cynically stalling.

The city continued to burn. What would come to characterize the Detroit riots--and make them uniquely terrifying--was the presence of a novel figure, the radical black sniper. Two days into the riots, a group of 40 National Guardsmen and police were pinned down at Ford Hospital by snipers. A 51-year-old white woman named Helen Hall, visiting Detroit on business, was shot through the window of the Harlan House Motel. It now appears likely she was actually killed by a Guardsman's errant bullet, but the cops at the time insisted it was a sniper with a deer rifle.

The imagery of Vietnam was replicating itself; for a few days, the ghetto really was a war zone. To Nixon, the implications were clear. "We must take the warnings to heart," he would later declare, "and prepare to meet force with force if necessary." The reaction to the riots, in his hands, was an incubator for the politics of white backlash. To court conservative voters, Nixon could play "the white side's field marshal," as the historian Rick Perlstein writes in Nixonland. In private, the former vice-president was negotiating with Senator Strom Thurmond the terms of Southern influence within the party--his White House would not oppose integration, but neither would it implement it speedily. In public, the riots allowed him to focus racial anxieties on something more immediate: the fear of violence. Nixon would tell a national radio audience, "our first commitment as a nation in this time of crisis and questioning must be a commitment to order."

Romney's perspective was different, and his reaction to the riots far more fraught. The governor had spent years working to improve Detroit's black inner city, to incorporate it, to give it access to the broader society. Though his church refused to ordain black clergymen until 1978, Romney was deeply committed to civil rights and clearly felt a bond with members of another persecuted minority. One of his great causes was the integration of the suburbs (his aides called it the "Romney Right to Walk to Work Program"), so blacks could join the middle class, too.

But the black middle class itself was revolting. When Romney staffers drove through Detroit during the riots, they noticed that "the looting and the fire bombing was supported by a number of middle-income Negroes." The black homeowners they interviewed refused to intervene; the black ministers they encountered blamed the extortionate practices of the burned businesses. Blacks were repudiating Romney's buy-in from the left, just as Nixon was repudiating it from the right. Driving toward Woodward Avenue, on the city's West Side, the staffers noticed that many buildings had signs written on them, in chalk or paint: "Soul Brother lives upstairs. Please do not burn." "Soul Brother. Do Not Burn." Then, simply: "Soul Brother."

It took about a week for the violence to dissipate, once the troops sent by Washington finally arrived. Forty-three people were killed in the rioting; hundreds of stores were looted. Romney was, first, furious at the White House. His second reaction, De Vries says, was deeper: "I think he had a hard time explaining why this had happened."

Fall, 1967.

On August 31, one month after the riots, Romney showed up at a Detroit television station for an interview on The Lou Gordon Program, which mattered quite a lot locally and not much at all to anyone else. The summer had both preoccupied and diminished him. When he could get away from Michigan, Romney was focusing on small campaign events where the force of his personality might move a few votes. Nixon, meanwhile, was running a brilliant mass-media campaign, soon to be orchestrated by his aide Roger Ailes--"no baby-kissing, no handshaking, no factory gates," Nixon said. At the beginning of the year, the race had been a dead heat; now Romney was eleven points behind.

Romney had been devoting his attention to the wrong cataclysm. The race riots were important, their political aftereffects profound. But the crisis that the news reporters kept returning to--the question that for them defined who could handle the presidency--was not the riots but Vietnam, and here Romney had less familiarity, and even less clarity. On the eve of a big Vietnam speech, unsure of himself, he'd sent the draft to Rockefeller for approval. Now, as he trudged from doorstep to doorstep, the governor's Vietnam position was still "unresolved," Moore says. Reporters had noticed. At the taping that day, Gordon asked whether Romney had changed his position since 1965, when he had just returned from a rushed governors' trip to Vietnam, when he said the intervention in Vietnam was "morally right."

Romney moralized everything; whether something was morally right was the question that interested him the most. That trip, back when the war was smaller and still dimly understood, when the governor had pinned Purple Hearts on wounded soldiers, had convinced him to support the president. In the years since, his doubts had coalesced--as Johnson tried to bully him into support, as figures like Martin Luther King Jr. issued denunciations--and he was becoming "more and more convinced that the war was a mistake," says Moore. "And yet he had this patriotic instinct he had to get past."

Somehow that resistance broke on The Lou Gordon Program. In Vietnam, Romney told the host, referring to his 1965 trip, "I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get ... Not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job." More recently, he had "gone into the history of Vietnam, all the way back into World War II and before, and as a result I have changed my mind ... I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam." He went on, issuing a torrent of national guilt--"We have created this conflict that is now a test between Communism and freedom there." The governor, normally controlled, was on a rare bender, and Gordon let him go.

Brainwashing had a specific connotation then: It was the term used to describe the ways in which the Communist state sought to control people's minds; it conjured images of The Manchurian Candidate. The reference suggested that Romney was paranoid and naïve, and perhaps it also subtly reinforced the suspicion that his religion might be a cult. The Detroit News, for years his firmest supporter in the press, condemned him, and so did virtually everyone else--the chairman of the Republican party in Iowa, even his old friend Robert ­McNamara. In the Gallup poll, Nixon's lead ballooned to 26 points. But Romney kept trying to explain his own alienation, kept doubling down. "I'm concerned about truth and credibility in government," Romney began a fund-raising speech in Oregon seven days later. "I believe we face a credibility crisis in America today." He blamed the Johnson administration, and then he went further: The crisis, he said, "involves a growing disbelief in some of our nation's basic truths."
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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Indiana Steel Mill Revived With Lessons From Abroad (JOHN W. MILLER, 5/21/12, WSJ)

American manufacturing--from chemicals to washing machines--is growing again. Spurred by stable labor costs, weaker unions and low natural gas prices, today's manufacturers have emerged from the recession far different from what they were even a decade ago. They employ more highly skilled workers, are more automated and have far fewer workers.

Globalization often is blamed for the travails of American manufacturing--from the relentless pressure of imports from lower-wage countries to outsourcing and overseas production by U.S.-based manufacturers. But globalization has its upsides as well. Not only does it often mean cheaper goods for American manufacturers, but it puts pressure on U.S. factories to become more efficient to keep up with global competition, making it possible for them to survive. [...]

After seeing the level of automation in Belgium, it wasn't hard to see what needed to be done back home. For example, in Gent, a computer coordinates the movement and processing of iron steel slabs, while in Burns Harbor, workers relied largely on phone calls, paper and brain power.

One Belgian computer model called Coordi tells workers when to pour liquid iron into ladles, when to mix in alloys and when to cast the steel into slabs, which is critical in avoiding expensive reheating of steel.

There were other smaller, but significant details. The Gent mill used a different type of nozzle attached to huge hoses that were used to remove flakes from 2,000-degree steel. Placed at a more efficient angle, the same amount of surface impurities could be removed with less water. Welders cut coils of steel to order, which kept waste to a minimum.

When Burns Harbor engineers returned, they made the quick and easy fixes first. They changed hose nozzles and moved the nozzle on 2,500 horsepower hoses used to scrub flakes off the steel closer, thus reducing the amount of power needed to propel the water. Those two changes saved the Indiana plant $1.4 million in energy costs, the company said.

Workers were directed to trim less rough steel off the sides of coil, saving the equivalent of 725 coils a year. "That's 17,000 cars," says Mr. Fabina, the mill's manager for continuous improvement.

Adopting the Coordi computer model took longer. Workers used to gathering information on their own and relying on experience and intuition had to attend classes on computer modeling.

Last year, Burns Harbor implemented Coordi at a cost of under $1 million. Since then, the mill has increased the average number of 298-ton caldrons of molten steel it produces daily, known as "heats," to 50 from 42.

Before "you'd write everything down on paper during the day, and then at the end of the day, type all the data into a computer," says Mike Williams, a furnace operator. Now "we watch everything come in during the day on computer screens." Expected savings: $1.3 million annually.

Inside a control room overlooking a red hot bucket of liquid ore, Chuck Shippen, a bearded man in his 60s, sits next to Mr. Williams. When the new computer system was introduced, they and other longtime workers had to be retrained.

Taking notes and tests was a big change. Mr. Shippen says his job is different but better now. "It is a little different to watch the screens here than to make 30 phone calls a day to collect information," he says.

Other longtime workers had to assume jobs they didn't have to do before. Paul Gipson, a 68-year-old electrical power inspector for most of his 44 years at Burns Harbor, says he and other senior workers have found themselves performing rote tasks he once delegated, like fixing light bulbs.

Such changes caused frustration among some workers, union leaders say. This summer, the union expects another tough bargaining battle. The United Steelworkers negotiates a single contract for all 12 of ArcelorMittal's U.S. facilities.

Despite the success of Burns Harbor, other mills and plants aren't faring as well, prompting company officials to argue that steelworkers are overpaid compared with other manufacturing jobs. "The way this company's talking, this battle is not going to be for the timid," says Pete Trinidad, a union rep at the mill.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Mitt Romney's new weapon to divide Democrats is Clinton (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 5/21/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Romney has name-dropped the former President several times in recent days, praising Clinton in the same breath as he slams the current occupant of the White House.

The motive for the unorthodox strategy seems clear: By complimenting Clinton for overseeing a reduction in government and an economic boom, Romney can contrast Obama as having done the opposite.

"Romney's primary goal is to suggest that Obama is well to the left of Bill Clinton," said Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia.

"He wants to make Obama the second coming of Jimmy Carter, not Bill Clinton," Sabato said.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Israel PM: illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state (Harriet Sherwood, 5/20/12,

The Israeli prime minister has stoked a volatile debate about refugees and migrant workers from Africa, warning that "illegal infiltrators flooding the country" were threatening the security and identity of the Jewish state.

"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state," Binyamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."

Africans become Americans. They can't become Israeli.
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May 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


What Will President Obama Say? (ANDREW ROSENTHAL, 5/18/12, NY Times)

So what will the president tell Americans to get them to vote for him?

Mr. Obama can go on energizing his base by doing things like endorsing marriage equality and protecting women's reproductive rights. And he needs to. Mr. Hart pointed that Republicans are much more focused on this election than Democrats.

He can also argue the country is indeed recovering from the recession--although his aides know he has to be careful on this point, since progress has been slow.

The president can also try to associate Mr. Romney with the failed economic policies of George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan before him. I think it's obvious those policies were a failure, but the mythology of Republican competence in economic affairs is still alive and well.

One assumes this column is a hoax.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Cory Booker slams Obama campaign ad attacking Romney's Bain Capital record (Dylan Stableford, May 20, 2012, ABC News)

Newark Mayor Cory Booker slammed the Obama campaign's ad criticizing Mitt Romney's record as the head of Bain Capital, and called for an end to"nauseating" attacks from both sides.

"I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," Booker, a Democrat, said in an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday. "To me, it's just we're getting to a ridiculous point in America. Especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses."

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Romney's Faith, Silent but Deep (JODI KANTOR, 5/20/12, NY Times)

[B]eing a Latter-day Saint is "at the center of who he really is, if you scrape everything else off," said Randy Sorensen, who worshiped with Mr. Romney in church.

As a young consultant who arrived at the office before anyone else, Mr. Romney was being "deseret," a term from the Book of Mormon meaning industrious as a honeybee, and he recruited colleagues and clients with the zeal of the missionary he once was. Mitt and Ann Romney's marriage is strong because they believe they will live together in an eternal afterlife, relatives and friends say, which motivates them to iron out conflicts.

Mr. Romney's penchant for rules mirrors that of his church, where he once excommunicated adulterers and sometimes discouraged mothers from working outside the home. He may have many reasons for abhorring debt, wanting to limit federal power, promoting self-reliance and stressing the unique destiny of the United States, but those are all traditionally Mormon traits as well.

Outside the spotlight, Mr. Romney can be demonstrative about his faith: belting out hymns ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus") while horseback riding, fasting on designated days and finding a Mormon congregation to slip into on Sundays, no matter where he is.

He prays for divine guidance on business decisions and political races, say those who have joined him. Sometimes on the campaign trail, Mr. and Mrs. Romney retreat to a quiet corner, bow their heads, clasp hands and share a brief prayer, said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who has traveled with them.

Clayton M. Christensen, a business professor at Harvard and a friend from church, said the question that drove the Sunday school classes -- how to apply Mormon gospel in the wider world -- also drives Mr. Romney's life. "He just needs to know what God wants him to do and how he can get it done," Mr. Christensen said.

Meanwhile, four years into his presidency, to the extent we can discern what President Obama believes in, it is nothing but his own career advancement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


In European Crisis, Iceland Emerges as an Island of Recovery (CHARLES FORELLE, 5/19/12, WSJ)

In 2008, Iceland was the first casualty of the financial crisis that has since primed the euro zone for another economic disaster: Greece is edging toward a cataclysmic exit from the euro, Spain is racked by a teetering banking system, and German politicians are squabbling over how to hold it all together.

But Iceland is growing. Unemployment has eased. Emigration has slowed.

Iceland has a significant advantage over stressed euro-zone countries--a currency that could be devalued. That has turned its trade deficit into a surplus and smoothed its recovery. [...]

Iceland--with its own currency, its own central bank, its own monetary policy, its own decision-making and its own rules--had policy options that euro-zone nations can only fantasize about. Its successes provide a vivid lesson in what euro countries gave up when they joined the monetary union. And, perhaps, a taste of what might be possible should they leave.

Iceland fell hard in 2008. Its engorged banking system sunk and unemployment soared. The government was jeered out of office by dispirited voters in angry street protests. Young people packed their bags. As in the euro zone, the International Monetary Fund parachuted in with a bailout.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Drive From The Rising Sun: Why Japan's Car Companies Are Moving Manufacturing Overseas: The fatal brew of the strong yen, Japanese earthquake and aging population (BENJAMIN REEVES, May 19, 2012, IB Times)

Japan's vaunted automakers may soon stop building cars in their homeland for export as a soaring yen combines with Mother Nature's mood swings and an aging population saps the strength of the Nipponese domestic market, driving the companies across the oceans and far from their birthplace.

Last week, Nissan Motor Company Ltd. (Tokyo: 7201) CEO Carlos Ghosn said that the automaker was seeking to "minimize exports from Japan." The very same day, Honda Motor Company Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) announced that it planned to stop exporting hybrids and instead produce them solely in the markets where they are intended to be sold. In 2011, Honda discontinued production of Civic model cars in Japan in favor of international production. And even Mazda Motor Corporation (Tokyo: 7261), which has been slow to set up plants outside of Japan, has recently broken ground on new factories in Mexico to produce Mazda 2 and 3 cars as well as engines.

These moves are a bitter pill for Japan and its foundering economy - and also a peek into Japan's future. Just a few decades ago, when Japanese companies were audaciously acquiring such international icons as Pebble Beach Golf Course and Rockefeller Center, Burberry, Aquascutum, Sun Chemicals and Columbia Studios, fears were rife in the West that Japan was going to dominate the global economy, eclipsing the U.S. in importance and innovation.

Nobody raises those concerns anymore. 

Now they all fret about China, which has almost all the same weaknesses plus many more.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The European Dream Has Become A Nightmare (Will Self, 5/20/12, BBC)

A fortnight or so ago - before setting off for Berlin on my quadriga-spotting tour - I heard the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, on Radio 4 opine that what Europe really needed now was for Germany to, once again, take a proper responsibility for the continent's security and vastly expand her armed forces, which, since 1945 have been a mere bundeswehr rump.

I nearly fell off my Brandenburg Gate of a chair: the whole point of the European project had been to bridle the bellicosity of her big powers - and in particular that proven troublemaker Germany - and that in this respect at least, the European Union represented one of the few examples in human history of the political classes of several nations acting selflessly and sensibly.

That these same politicians were afflicted by a strange sort of doublethink - both aspiring towards unity, and desperate for their own nationalistic electorates to preserve the substance of their sovereignties - was and is the peculiar vaulting horse upon which Europa's crotch has now painfully descended.

For myself, I had always been an enthusiastic pro-European and an unashamed believer in a federal European state. Like many English people of my tastes and proclivities, I rather fancied myself propping up zinc bars, sipping pastis and listening to the musical chink-clank of petanque.

I viewed an increasingly united Europe as a necessary counterweight to US world hegemony and Russian idiocy, while also being a handy cosmopolitan stick with which to beat the backs of uptight Little Englanders.

But times and opinions change: the continent's sixty year double-thinking reverie has turned the European dream into something of a nightmare: the quadriga's remaining obstinately faced to the East has resulted in an unfeasible extension of the EU in that direction also, while the attempt to reconcile national sovereignty with a single European economy has resulted in a bloated bureaucracy full of the wind of its own democratic deficit.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Heading Into Talks With Iran, U.S. Sees Hopeful Signs (MARK LANDLER, 5/18/12, NY Times)

[A]merican officials said that at a minimum, the Baghdad meeting should be a genuine test of Iran's willingness to do more than talk. "They're nervous enough to talk," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations. "Whether they're nervous enough to act, we don't know yet." Another senior official said, "We have a tail wind going into this."

For President Obama, the stakes are huge. A successful meeting could prolong the diplomatic dance with Tehran, delaying any possible military confrontation over the nuclear program until after the presidential election. It could also keep a lid on oil prices, which fell again this week in part because of the decrease in tensions. Lower gasoline prices would aid the economic recovery in the United States, and Mr. Obama's electoral prospects.

In a sign of the increased diplomatic efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that its director general, Yukiya Amano, would travel to Tehran on Sunday to try to negotiate access to a military site where Iran is suspected of having conducted tests on nuclear-weapons triggers. It would be the first visit by the agency's head to Iran since 2009, and it could add to the momentum in Baghdad.

"The Iranians are in the position of needing to pursue diplomacy, if anything, even more than they did before," said Dennis B. Ross, one of Mr. Obama's senior advisers on Iran until last year and now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It's not like they have any other good news right now."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


The Global Middle Class Is Bigger Than We Thought: A new way of measuring prosperity has enormous implications for geopolitics and economics. (SHIMELSE ALI, URI DADUSH | MAY 16, 2012, Foreign Policy)

The swelling middle class in emerging economies is transforming the economic balance of power across the globe. Measuring it, however, is no easy task. There is no widely accepted definition of what constitutes the middle class, and the most common ways of measuring its growth -- through looking at rises in income -- suffer from a number of flaws.

There's an easier way. In the developing world, buying a car is virtually synonymous with entry into the middle class. In these countries, car ownership separates those with the ability to purchase many other nonessentials from those within the wider population. Car statistics, moreover, are generally reliable and frequently updated, and they include data by automobile type that can be used to further segment the middle class. For this reason, the number of passenger cars in circulation serves as the most reliable gauge we have about the size of a country's middle class.

Applying this measure significantly alters our understanding of the middle class in the developing world. It shows that there are many more affluent people in developing countries than had previously been thought and that about 70 developing countries with a combined population of about 4 billion are near or above the point where car ownership rises very rapidly. This suggests that very large numbers of people will enter the middle class in the coming years, transforming the economies and political systems of the countries they inhabit.

So given that three quarters of the folks who live in putative poverty in the US own vehicles we can safely consider them middle class.

May 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


Elizabeth Warren's recipes sound familiar (Howie Carr, May 19, 2012, Boston Herald)

Elizabeth Warren, the fake Indian, has another problem with the Pow Wow Chow cookbook.

It seems that at least two of her "special recipes passed down through the Five Tribes families" are identical to ones from The New York Times [NYT] that were printed in 1979.

And they're not just from any eatery either -- the recipes came from Le Pavillon, the fabulous French restaurant that domin-ated le haute cuisine in Man-- hattan from 1941 to 1966.

Amazing, too, that Granny's recipes for Crab With Tomato Mayonnaise Dressing, and Cold Omelets With Crab Meat, while no doubt popular along the Trail of Tears, were likewise tres populaire with Le Pavillon's Beaut-iful People clientele.

As Pierre Franey, the Pav-illon chef and original author of the recipes put it, "The dish was a great favorite of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Cole Porter."

Cole Porter was an Indian? Who knew?

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Negative Coattails: Could Obama Cost Arkansas Democrats The Legislature? (ALAN GREENBLATT, 5/18/12, NPR)

Arkansas is the last Southern state remaining where Democrats have held onto their traditional majorities in the Legislature. But Republicans are now within striking distance there as well -- thanks, in part, to Obama.

"Republicans won a whole bunch of legislative seats they had never competed in before" in 2010, says Roby Brock, editor of, which conducted the recent 4th District poll. "A lot of that was an anti-Obama vote they took out on people who were on the ballot as a whole."

With Obama on the ballot himself this fall, will Arkansans be satisfied voting against him, or will they take their feelings out on Democrats in general?

Because of state law requiring redrawn state Senate districts after each U.S. census, Arkansas voters will select the entire state Legislature on Nov. 6 -- all 100 House seats and all 35 Senate seats.

"The president has been unpopular here, and that has been magnified in parts of the state by his recent declaration of support for same-sex marriages," says Democratic state Sen. Steve Harrelson.

What does the UR care? They weren't going to vote for him anyway.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


In Europe, time for true austerity: Half-hearted reforms won't work. European countries need to get serious about spending cuts. (Veronique de Rugy, May 18, 2012, LA Times)

There are two basic problems with this growing anti-austerity backlash. First, where spending was actually reduced, the cuts have been relatively small compared to the size of the problem and meaningful structural reforms were seldom implemented. Second, to the extent declining Europe countries pursued austerity, it has mainly been through large tax increases. If the economies of Spain, France, Britain and other European nations are suffering, it's not because of "savage" spending cuts. It's because small spending cuts are overwhelmed by tax increases.

Consider Britain, where supposed austerity measures represent a "stunning failure of policy," according to Krugman in his New York Times column. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised he would reform social programs and dramatically cut spending and taxes. Instead, he increased the top marginal income tax rate shortly before he left office. When David Cameron replaced him in 2010, he promised to pursue the same austerity measures. However, in 2011-12, spending increased from $1.15 trillion to $1.2 trillion, and public pensions have yet to be reformed. Instead, the government increased the capital gains tax, national insurance tax and value-added tax along with other fees and duties.

In Spain, the conservative party raised the retirement age from 65 to 67 in January 2011, but it has failed to implement comprehensive structural reforms. It was, however, successful in pushing through higher personal income and property tax rates in an attempt to balance its books. This year, the government has proposed reducing the deficit by $35.2 billion through a combination of tax increases ($16 billion) and spending cuts ($19.2 billion). But the spending reductions, even if implemented, won't be enough to compensate for an overly optimistic growth rate. Although the increase of the corporate income tax will be real, so will the increase in public pension and unemployment benefits.

Then there are the French, who elected a Socialist president for the first time since the 1980s. Hollande wants to replace what he calls austerity with "pro-growth" policies. But there is nothing austere about France's spending, which rose by $33.4 billion between 2009 and 2010 and an additional $29.5 billion in 2011. French public spending already equals 56% of GDP. Hollande's own wishful projections show total tax receipts rising from 45% of the economy to 47% in five years thanks to his plan to impose a 75% top marginal income tax rate for those earning more than $1.3 million and an increase in the corporate income tax. If this is pro-growth, then garlic breath is pro-romance.

If the critics of austerity can't find contemporary examples of where it's been successfully implemented, they can look at history. Research consistently shows that successful attempts to reduce government debt ratios follow a single-minded devotion to actually cutting spending rather than just talking about it.

In a 2009 paper, Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna looked at 107 examples in developed countries over 30 years and found that successful austerity packages -- defined by a reduction in debt to GDP greater than 4.5% after three years -- resulted from making spending cuts without tax increases. They also found that this form of austerity accompanied by the "right policies" (easy monetary policy, liberalization of goods and labor markets, and other structural reforms) is more likely associated with economic expansions rather than with recessions. This makes intuitive sense: Austerity based on spending cuts signals that a country is serious about getting its fiscal house in order in a way that taxing and spending certainly does not.

On the other hand, they found that the so-called balanced approach -- typically a mix of spending cuts and tax increases -- is a recipe for failure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Kerry Wood and the greatest game pitched (David Schoenfield, 5/18/12,

I'll never forget walking into the office that May afternoon in 1998 and having excited co-workers ask, "Did you see what just happened?" 

Kerry Wood had struck out 20 batters. 

He was 20 years old, making his fifth career major league start for the Chicago Cubs, and he had just blown away the Houston Astros, one of the best hitting teams in the league. We saw the highlights on "SportsCenter." Yes, it was a gray, overcast day at Wrigley Field, and maybe the Astros had trouble picking up the ball, but I'm not sure it mattered all that much. I remember the "SportsCenter" highlights, in which they showed all 20 strikeouts in rapid-fire fashion. I've since watched the game on replay. 

You can talk about Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson at their best, but I've never seen a more dominating pitching performance. His pitches were moving like whiffle balls thrown in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge, except they were moving at 95 miles per hour. 

The Astros had no chance. 

They managed one infield single and Wood hit a batter, so it wasn't a perfect game or even a no-hitter. But by the Bill James Game Score method, it was the best game ever pitched. 

If you watch the game the most noticeable thing is how tightly wrapped his breaking pitch is and how hard it bites, though it supposedly wasn't a slider.  Elbow problems were inevitable.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


The Swedish Reform Model, Believe It or Not: Why this social democracy has a liberalizing labor market and strong growth. The answer isn't that it's outside the euro zone. (ANNE JOLIS, 5/18/12, WSJ)

By 1991, at age 23, Mr. Borg was advising the grown-ups in Stockholm, where the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Carl Bildt was deregulating everything in sight in a bid for growth. Welfare was frozen and housing subsidies slashed, along with tax rates at the top and bottom of the income scale. The government introduced a private option for health insurance and a voucher system for "free" schools (just don't say "for profit") that today educate 10% of young Swedes. Eventually even the bank assets were sold off, at no net taxpayer loss.

The panic had left a "scar" that Mr. Borg says "transformed a lot of our society." He says "no country should wish for a crisis," but Sweden's helped forge a national consensus for the kinds of reforms against which Southern Europe is now revolting: checks on government spending, changes to taxes and welfare to encourage work, and labor-market liberalization.

Since becoming finance minister in 2006, Mr. Borg has further nudged down income and business taxes, abolishing Sweden's "wealth" tax on assets of more than 1.5 million krona ($215,000) and scrapping most property taxes. In 2010, Prime Minister Friedrik Reinfeldt's center-right alliance became the first non-Socialist government in modern Swedish history to win a second term. Health care is now heavily subsidized rather than fully nationalized; in 2010 Sweden got its first private drugstore since 1971.

Employers now have the right to lay off employees in a downturn, giving Sweden an advantage over most of Europe, where labor restrictions of all kinds make employers reluctant to hire even in good times. Union membership runs to 80% of the workforce (both blue-collar and white), and national collective bargaining still sets working times and wages. But Sweden today competes with the world, since a 2008 reform made it one of the easiest countries in Europe for non-European Union immigrants to work legally.

Stockholm has also tightened eligibility criteria on unemployment benefits and sick pay. "There used to be almost a percentage point of the workforce going into early retirement every year--now it's 0.2%," Mr. Borg notes. To sweeten the "overhaul from welfare to workfare," a reform Mr. Borg says has been "very much inspired by the Clinton administration," a new earned-income tax credit returns up to 6% for low- to middle-income workers. 
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Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Obama's North Carolina math problem (Peter Hamby, 5/18/12, CNN)

The state Democratic Party here is consumed with an ongoing sexual harassment scandal. 
The embattled governor is so unpopular she decided not to run for a second term. And supporters of same-sex marriage were dealt a crushing defeat at the ballot box last week.

But the biggest challenge in North Carolina this year for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats can be boiled down to something simpler: math.

Everything that could have gone right for Obama in 2008 did go right, and yet he still only won North Carolina by just 14,177 votes -- a tiny sliver of the 4.2 million cast statewide. [...]

Today, though, it's hard to find a Democrat in the capital of Raleigh who believes the president, saddled with the burdens of governing and a sputtering economy, can stir the enthusiasm of 2008 and repeat his near-flawless North Carolina performance.

May 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Wisconsin recall slipping away from Democrats (Aaron Blake, 05/18/2012, Washington Post)

All three polls out this week show Walker leading Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) by between 5 percent and 9 percent. 

Perhaps more illustrative, though, are the candidate's personal favorability and approval numbers.

Despite all the attempts by Democrats and organized labor to turn him into the bogeyman, Walker's job approval and favorable rating both remain in positive territory, at right around 50 percent.

Barrett, meanwhile, has no such luxury. The latest Marquette University Law School poll of this race showed his favorable rating at just 37 percent, compared to 45 percent who view him unfavorably.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Wealthy Sweden spending too little: policy adviser (Niklas Pollard and Johan Sennero, 5/14/12, Reuters) 

Sweden's centre-right coalition government is being too tight-fisted with public finances that are likely to remain strong for years to come, a think tank charged with evaluating policy said on Monday.

The Swedish Fiscal Policy Council, a state agency that evaluates government policy, said it saw little risk the country would breach spending ceiling rules in the coming years and instead urged the government to slacken spending constraints.

Unlike most countries in Europe, strong export revenues and firm domestic demand have helped Sweden rapidly shrink its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, leading to rising net wealth for the public sector. [...]

While relentless austerity measures are driving debt-laden countries in the euro zone into recession, the government forecasts Swedish public debt to fall to 37.7 percent of GDP this year and a mere 22.5 percent in 2016.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Gallup poll: Romney's 'favorable' rating jumps (Holly Bailey, May 17, 2012, ABC News)

A new Gallup poll finds 50 percent of Americans polled have a "favorable" view of the presumptive Republican nominee--an 11-point jump since February. According to Gallup, that's the highest favorable rating the poll has recorded since they began tracking opinions about Romney in 2006.

Romney's favorable rating is two points lower than that of President Obama--which currently sits at 52 percent. But more Americans view Obama unfavorably: 46 percent, compared to Romney's 41 percent.

He's still Governor Romney.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Israel in Peril: a review of The Crisis of Zionism by Peter Beinart  (David Shulman, 6/07/12, NYRB)

Buried somewhere inside all this is a bad Israeli conscience about the treatment of Palestinians since 1948--a conscience repressed but still somehow alive (not, perhaps, in Netanyahu). The rationalizing vision pasted over that bad conscience, a vision simple-minded, self-righteous, dangerous, and immoral, underlies the dilemma that Peter Beinart has eloquently and bravely stated in The Crisis of Zionism. He articulates it as a conflict, very familiar by now, between liberal, democratic values and a proto-racist, atavistic nationalism. This conflict has created two Jewish states in the Middle East. As Beinart says, "To the west [of the Green Line, the pre-1967 border], Israel is a flawed but genuine democracy. To the east, it is an ethnocracy."

By "ethnocracy" he means "a place where Jews enjoy citizenship and Palestinians do not"; it is a mini-state run by settlers, some of them violent and fanatical, that disenfranchises a huge Palestinian population and continually appropriates Palestinian land in the interests of expanding and further entrenching the colonial project of the settlements. Inevitably, the ethos of the occupation, now in its forty-fifth year, spills westward over the Green Line: "Illiberal Zionism beyond the green line destroys the possibility of liberal Zionism inside it."

The evidence for this observation is overwhelming; Beinart discusses recent research that shows a dangerous erosion in the commitment by ordinary Israelis to basic democratic values and the concomitant rise of hypernationalist, racist, and totalitarian tendencies, some of them well represented in the ultra-right parties in the Knesset and in the current Israeli cabinet. In the last year or so, we've seen a spate of antidemocratic, "ethnocratic" legislation all too reminiscent of dark precedents in the history of the last century.

We could also describe what is happening, more simply, as a takeover by the settler mini-state of the central institutions of the Israeli state system as a whole. By now, Israeli policy is almost entirely mortgaged to the settler enterprise; almost every day brings some new, inventive scheme to legalize existing "illegal outposts" in the territories and to facilitate the appropriation of more and more Palestinian land.2 The inevitable result of such policies is the imminent demise of the so-called "two-state solution," which would put a Palestinian state by the side of pre-1967 Israel (with whatever minor revisions of the old boundary the two sides would agree upon in negotiations). By now, a huge portion of the West Bank has, in effect, been annexed, perhaps irreversibly, to Israel. No state can be constituted on the little that remains. I will return to this question.

Even apart from the disastrous political consequences of current Israeli policy, it is critical to recognize that what goes on in the territories is not a matter of episodic abuse of basic human rights, something that could be corrected by relatively minor, ad hoc actions of protest and redress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The occupation is systemic in every sense of the word. The various agencies involved--government bureaucrats and their ministries and budgets, the army, the blue-uniformed civilian police, the border police, the civil administration (that is, the official Occupation Authority), the courts (in particular, the military courts in the territories, but also Israeli civil courts inside the Green Line), the host of media commentators who toe the government line and perpetuate its regnant mythologies, and so on--are all inextricably woven into a system whose logic is apparent to anyone with firsthand experience of it. That logic is one of protecting the settlement project and taking the land. The security aspect of the occupation is, in my view, close to trivial; were it a primary goal, the situation on the ground would look very different.[...] 

Analysts like Meron Benvenisti, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, have been saying for years that the idea of the two-state solution is no more than a fig leaf, to which both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships pay lip service, hiding the recalcitrant reality of what is already a single state between the Jordan River and the sea. At the moment, this single state, seen as a whole, fits Beinart's term--a coercive "ethnocracy." Those who recoil at the term "apartheid" are invited to offer a better one; but note that one of the main architects of this system, Ariel Sharon, himself reportedly adopted South African terminology, referring to the noncontiguous Palestinian enclaves he envisaged for the West Bank as "Bantustans."

These Palestinian Bantustans now exist, and no one should pretend that they're anything remotely like a "solution" to Israel's Palestinian problem. Someday, as happened in South Africa, this system will inevitably break down. In an optimistic version of the future, we may be left with some sort of confederated model that is more than one state but somehow less than two--and in which the Jews will soon become a minority. I do not see how that can happen without a struggle, hopefully nonviolent at least to some degree, in which Palestinians claim for themselves the rights that other peoples have achieved.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Meet the GUTS: The West isn't declining. Here are four world powers enjoying an astonishing renaissance. (BRUCE JONES AND THOMAS WRIGHT, MAY 17, 2012, Foreign Policy)

Ironically, America's obituary as a great power has repeatedly been written over the past three years even as it has grown stronger on multiple fronts. U.S. influence in Asia has risen at a rapid clip since 2008, driven largely by regional anxiety about Chinese assertiveness. The United States deepened its traditional alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea. It developed strategic partnerships, including with the Philippines, Vietnam, and others in ways that were previously unthinkable. Paradoxically, Chinese economic growth has weakened its own geopolitical position and benefited the United States. Such are the ways of world politics.

The United States is rising in other areas too. On national security, the U.S. position is also stronger than it has been in many years. The U.S. military and intelligence services have shown impressive dynamism in bringing al Qaeda to the brink of total defeat, something many analysts believed unlikely only a few years ago. The Pentagon has been at the forefront of the drone and robotics revolution, which may give it an edge in 21st-century conflicts. Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats have developed innovative new means of international cooperation, notably with the Nuclear Security Summit and the Open Government Partnership.

America's greatest vulnerability remains its weak economy. Significant challenges lie ahead, but it is worth noting that the United States has significantly outperformed the eurozone and has better prospects for growth than most other Western states. It remains a hub of innovation: Just consider the rise of social media and the technology-driven exploration for shale gas. Over the long term, the fiscal challenges confronting the United States must be weighed against the very real -- and very underestimated -- internal strains on the Chinese and Indian economies.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The Arab Spring and American Ideals (GEORGE W. BUSH, 5/17/12, WSJ)

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies--internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

The day when a dictator falls or yields to a democratic movement is glorious. The years of transition that follow can be difficult. People forget that this was true in Central Europe, where democratic institutions and attitudes did not spring up overnight. From time to time, there has been corruption, backsliding and nostalgia for the communist past. Essential economic reforms have sometimes proved painful and unpopular.

It takes courage to ignite a freedom revolution. But it also takes courage to secure a freedom revolution through structural reform. And both types of bravery deserve our support.

This is now the challenge in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. After the euphoria, nations must deal with questions of tremendous complexity: What effect will majority rule have on the rights of women and religious minorities? How can militias be incorporated into a national army? What should be the relationship between a central government and regional authorities?

Problems once kept submerged by force must now be resolved by politics and consensus. But political institutions and traditions are often weak.

May 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?: a review of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson  (Jared Diamond, 6/07/12, NYRB)

There is no doubt that good institutions are important in determining a country's wealth. But why have some countries ended up with good institutions, while others haven't? The most important factor behind their emergence is the historical duration of centralized government. Until the rise of the world's first states, beginning around 3400 BC, all human societies were bands or tribes or chiefdoms, without any of the complex economic institutions of governments. A long history of government doesn't guarantee good institutions but at least permits them; a short history makes them very unlikely. One can't just suddenly introduce government institutions and expect people to adopt them and to unlearn their long history of tribal organization.

That cruel reality underlies the tragedy of modern nations, such as Papua New Guinea, whose societies were until recently tribal. Oil and mining companies there pay royalties intended for local landowners through village leaders, but the leaders often keep the royalties for themselves. That's because they have internalized their society's practice by which clan leaders pursue their personal interests and their own clan's interests, rather than representing everyone's interests.

The various durations of government around the world are linked to the various durations and productivities of farming that was the prerequisite for the rise of governments. For example, Europe began to acquire highly productive agriculture 9,000 years ago and state government by at least 4,000 years ago, but subequatorial Africa acquired less productive agriculture only between 2,000 and 1,800 years ago and state government even more recently. Those historical differences prove to have huge effects on the modern distribution of wealth. Ola Olsson and Douglas Hibbs showed that, on average, nations in which agriculture arose many millennia ago--e.g., European nations--tend to be richer today than nations with a shorter history of agriculture (e.g., subequatorial African nations), and that this factor explains about half of all the modern national variation in wealth. Valerie Bockstette, Areendam Chanda, and Louis Putterman showed further that, if one compares countries that were equally poor fifty years ago (e.g., South Korea and Ghana), the countries with a long history of state government (e.g., South Korea) have on the average been getting rich faster than those with a short history (e.g., Ghana).

An additional factor behind the origin of the good institutions that I discussed above is termed "the reversal of fortune," and is the subject of Chapter 9 of Why Nations Fail. Among non-European countries colonized by Europeans during the last five hundred years, those that were initially richer and more advanced tend paradoxically to be poorer today. That's because, in formerly rich countries with dense native populations, such as Peru, Indonesia, and India, Europeans introduced corrupt "extractive" economic institutions, such as forced labor and confiscation of produce, to drain wealth and labor from the natives. (By extractive economic institutions, Acemoglu and Robinson mean practices and policies "designed to extract incomes and wealth from one subset of society [the masses] to benefit a different subset [the governing elite].")

But in formerly poor countries with sparse native populations, such as Costa Rica and Australia, European settlers had to work themselves and developed institutional incentives rewarding work. When the former colonies achieved independence, they variously inherited either the extractive institutions that coerced the masses to produce wealth for dictators and the elite, or else institutions by which the government shared power and gave people incentives to pursue. The extractive institutions retarded economic development, but incentivizing institutions promoted it.

The remaining factor contributing to good institutions, of which Acemoglu and Robinson mention some examples, involves another paradox, termed "the curse of natural resources." One might naively expect countries generously endowed with natural resources (such as minerals, oil, and tropical hardwoods) to be richer than countries poorer in natural resources. In fact, the trend is opposite, the result of the many ways in which national dependence on certain types of natural resources (like diamonds and oil) tends to promote bad institutions, such as corruption, civil wars, inflation, and neglect of education.

An example, mentioned in Chapter 12, is the diamond boom in Sierra Leone, which contributed to that nation's impoverishment. Other examples are Nigeria's and the Congo's poverty despite their wealth in oil and minerals respectively. In all three of those cases, selfish dictators or elites found that they themselves could become richer by taking the profits from natural resources for their personal gain, rather than investing the profits for the good of their nation. But some countries with prescient leaders or citizens avoided the curse of natural resources by investing the proceeds in economic development and education. As a result, oil-producing Norway is now the world's richest country, and oil-producing Trinidad and Tobago now enjoys an income approaching that of Britain, its former colonial ruler.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


ROMNEY LEADS OBAMA IN LATEST POLL: HOW BAD IS IT? (John Cassidy, 5/15/12, The New Yorker)

In my neck of artisanal, hormone-free Brooklyn, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, which shows Mitt Scissorhands leading "The First Gay President" by three points, landed with a nasty thud. "I can't believe he might lose," my wife said when she spotted the offending numbers on the Web. "People are really willing to vote for Mitt Romney? They hate Obama so much they'd vote for Romney?"

Evidently so--not that you'd know it from a casual read of the print edition of today's Times. The editors buried the lead in the fifteenth paragraph of a down-page story on A17. (I've got a helpful suggestion: if Romney's ahead in next month's poll, maybe it could go in the Metro section--the one that no longer exists.) Not surprisingly, conservative news sites made rather more of the story. Under the headline "Kaboom: Romney Leads Obama by 3 in New CBS/NYT Poll," Guy Benson, the political editor of, pointed out several other noteworthy findings n the survey, including the facts that Romney leads Obama by two points among women (so much for the gender gap) and seven points among independents. Two thirds of the survey's respondents said the economy was in "very bad" or "fairly bad" shape, and Obama's favorability rating is still stuck in the mid-forties--at forty-five per cent, to be exact.

To add insult to injury, the poll suggested the public is skeptical of Obama's conversion to the cause of legalizing gay marriage.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Is Pennsylvania In Play for November? Maybe. (Stuart Rothenberg, 5/15/12, Roll Call)

Still, there are reasons for GOP strategists to look long and hard at the state this time, thinking 2012 could be different.
The GOP controls both chambers of the state Legislature, the governorship, one of the state's Senate seats and a large majority of the House delegation (in part because of creative mapmaking). George H. W. Bush carried the state in 1988, and in spite of the defeats in 2000 and 2004, those presidential contests in the state were close.

Potentially more important than historical considerations is the makeup of the state. Pennsylvania is an old state. Only Florida, West Virginia and Maine have a higher percentage of residents 65 years old or older, according to 2010 census data. And the Keystone State is white. Among the nation's dozen largest states, it ranks behind only Ohio for the lowest percentage of minority residents. Just more than one-fifth of Pennsylvania's population is minority, slightly above Ohio's 18.9 percent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won both whites and voters 65 and older in 2008, according to the national exit poll, and the president is likely to be weaker in those two demographic groups again.

Pennsylvania is also well-known as a state with a large number of working-class whites, particularly in northeastern (Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, for example) and western Pennsylvania (Erie, Johnstown and Pittsburgh) -- the kind of people one GOP strategist says "have their names on their shirts when they are at work."

Candidate Obama had problems with those kinds of voters in 2008 -- county-level data shows he did worse than Kerry in 2004 in a swath of counties running from southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia through extreme southwestern Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, and into Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. If anything, he seems weaker in those areas this year.

These voters don't have an automatic cultural connection to Obama (or to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney), and the president's recent announcement supporting same-sex marriage isn't likely to be a plus with them. Jobs, of course, remain a big issue with these voters, and whatever hope they had that Obama would turn the economy around has almost certainly evaporated.

Potentially, Romney could outperform most national Republicans in the southeastern corner of the state, as he is a better "cultural fit" there, particularly in Philadelphia's upscale suburbs (Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties).

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


A Death at Home Plate (Gilbert King, 5/09/12, Smithsonian)

The Indians were in first place, a half-game ahead of the Yankees on August 16, 1920, when they arrived at the Polo Grounds, the home the Yankees shared with the New York Giants until Yankee Stadium was built three years later. It was the start of a three-game series on a dark and drizzly Monday afternoon in Harlem. On the mound for the Yankees was right-hander Carl Mays, the ace of the staff, hoping to notch his 100th career win. Mays, a spitballer (legal at the time), threw with an awkward submarine motion, bending his torso to the right and releasing the ball close to the ground--he sometimes scraped his knuckles in the dirt. Right-handed submariners tend to give right-handed batters the most trouble because their pitches will curve in toward the batter, jamming him at the last moment. Mays, one baseball magazine noted, looked "like a cross between an octopus and a bowler" on the mound. "He shoots the ball in at the batter at such unexpected angles that his delivery is hard to find, generally until along about 5 o'clock, when the hitters get accustomed to it--and when the game is about over."

Mays had good control for a submariner, but he also was known as a "headhunter" who was not shy about brushing batters, especially right-handers, off the plate; he was consistently among the American League leaders in hit batsmen. His feud with Detroit Tigers great Ty Cobb was particularly intense: In one game, he threw at the cantankerous "Georgia Peach" every time he came to bat, prompting Cobb to throw his bat at Mays, Mays to call Cobb a "yellow dog," the umpires to separate the two as they tried to trade blows, and Mays to hit Cobb on the wrist with his next pitch. In another game, Cobb laid a bunt down the first-base line so he could spike Mays when the pitcher covered the base.

Mays went unloved even by his teammates, since he had a habit of berating them if they made errors while he was pitching. And he once buried a fastball in the stomach of a heckling fan.

So when Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman stepped to the plate in the top of the fifth inning before more than 20,000 New York fans, Mays could not have been in the best of moods. The Yankees were trailing, 3-0, after he gave up a homer and his fielders committed errors worth two more runs.

Chapman was popular among both fans and players--even Ty Cobb considered him a friend. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors' money, U.S. coordination (Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, 5/15/12, Washington Post)

Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. [...]

The U.S. contacts with the rebel military and the information-sharing with gulf nations mark a shift in Obama administration policy as hopes dim for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Many officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable.

Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons -- most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military -- has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood's executive committee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Japan and Europe Are Killing Themselves (Steve Forbes, June 4, 2012, Forbes magazine)

FORBES columnist Nathan Lewis, a noted economist and money manager, recalled recently that when asked about Japan's prospects seven years ago he blurted out: "They will tax themselves to death." And that is precisely what Tokyo continues to do.

Japan's political leaders are more obtuse and irresponsible than those found in Europe. They have completely forgotten the prescriptions of sound money and ever lower taxes that fueled their nation's extraordinary postwar economic expansion. As if in the grips of a death wish, Japan has, since the late 1980s, repeatedly raised taxes, with new levies of all kinds imposed. In the early 1990s the capital gains tax on property was boosted to 90%--and this was before a slew of other property exactions were piled on. To stimulate the tax-strangled economy Japan has gone on spending binges that would make Paul Krugman, Barack Obama and other big-government believers drool with envy. Today Japan's gross national debt--more than 200% of GDP--vastly exceeds even that of Greece. Nevertheless, Japan is in the process of enacting a new array of tax increases: The top income tax rate, the gasoline tax, the payroll tax, the inheritance tax and the capital gains tax are all slated to go up. The corporate tax rate was cut slightly, but this was more than mitigated by the elimination of numerous deductions. Notes Lewis ominously, "The government is plainly on the road to default."

Extreme? Unlike Greece, Japan still has immense assets. But the tremors foretelling an economic apocalypse are there: Its once vaunted individual savings rate, for example, has virtually disappeared.

Government debt is now held primarily by banks (which are susceptible to government "suggestions" regarding this matter) and official institutions, another indication of trouble. That's a phenomenon, by the way, found in both Europe and the U.S.

Fortunately, though the U.S. currently has an antigrowth strategy, ­positive change is coming. Over the past 18 months many congressional Dem­ocrats, for instance, have been willing to cut deals with Republicans on spending restraint, tax simplification and entitlement reforms. But the White House blocked any such agreements. States are enacting fiscal and government workforce changes that would have been politically inconceivable just a couple of years ago. Governor Romney has a modest tax plan that would cut individual tax rates 20% in return for cutting back on certain deductions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM



Like many people, I first encountered "Salesman" as a teen-ager, and--as with Steinbeck or Harper Lee--it was encouraging to discover that a supposed masterpiece of American literature could be so direct, comprehensible, and unmissably poignant. Miller's ironies--as when Willy, on the night he is to commit suicide, goes out into his back garden and plants a packet of seeds--are never so subtle that the reader is in any danger of missing them. "Literature," I remember thinking, "I could get the hang of this."

Ten years later, at the Ethel Barrymore, I found myself squirming in my seat from boredom and exasperation, amazed at how much glaringly conventional stagecraft "Salesman" was able to pack into its two acts. The rising action, the dramatic irony, the laborious, grandstanding speeches ("Spite, spite, is the word of your undoing...When you're rotting somewhere beside the railroad tracks, remember, and don't you dare blame it on me")--I kept wanting to exclaim, "It sounds like a play!"

Was I the only one? Perhaps. Everyone else in America seems to have been ravished by the play. Once again: the poignancy of Willy's situation (to arrive at the belief that, after years of punishing effort, you are worth more to your family dead than alive) is not in question--it is the ten-decibel amplification that Miller uses to deliver it. At one moment, agonized by what he believes to be Biff's lack of respect for him, Willy fantasizes about the crowds that would turn out at his funeral, were he to kill himself. The contortions of his battered self-esteem are painful to witness: "That funeral will be massive!" he exclaims. "They'll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the oldtimers with the strange license plates--that boy will be thunderstruck... because he never realized--I am known!"

A word to the wise is sufficient. That Willy's funeral would not in fact be the standing-room-only affair he fondly conjures up is instantly clear to any audience: this is what moves us. But Miller is not content to let the suggestion percolate. He ends the play with a cloyingly lugubrious funeral, which is indeed sparsely attended. "But where are all the people he knew?" asks Linda. (Biff adds, in case we were in any doubt on this point, "He never knew who he was.") What was finely implicit earlier on now feels about as subtle as a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal.

Henry James said that in art, economy is always beauty. Miller spends recklessly. admit that it took you this long to realize that Arthur Miller's agitprop sucks.

May 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


American Cartesianism and the Emerging Right to Same-Sex Marriage (Peter Lawler, May 16, 2012, Big Think)

For today, I'm thinking about how the right to same-sex marriage might emerge from a Constitution understood in a consistently Lockean/Cartesian way.  I'm not taking a stand on any issue for today. 

And I'm not saying that this understanding of our Constitution is complete or accurate.  I am saying that there's a certain individualistic or personal logic that can explain recent Court decisions. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, in the best book on America and the best book on modern liberal (or individualistic, Lockean/Cartesian) democracy, observes that the Americans are Cartesians who've never read a word of Descartes.  The Cartesian method--the radical doubt that produces the conclusion that the only certainty is the self-conscious "I"--is also the democratic method.  The democrats achieves intellectual liberty by methodically or habitually doubting the word--the authority--of other persons.  If I trust what you say, then I'm ruled by you, and I surrender my self-sovereignty. 

 Democratic Cartesianism is full of words like "deconstruct" (good) and "privilege" (bad).  The democratic theorist deconstructs any theory that privileges one person's word over another. So the democratic theorist--say, Whitman or Emerson--preaches nonconformity, or personal resistance to being absorbed into a personal whole greater than oneself.  So to be a democratic "I" is to be liberated from the authority of priests, poets, philosophers, preachers, politicians, (theoretical) physicists, parents, and the personal, judgmental God.  It's also to be liberate from personal claims about what is according to nature. As, say, Whitman explained, American personal freedom is the unlimited, indefinite movement away from nature.

This Cartesianism, for some Americans, is clearest in the Constitution.  Our Constitution treats human as free or wholly detached or self-sufficient persons.  The "I" is not subsumed into some class or category--as a part of religion or race or class or even gender or even country.  The Constitution, of course, can't help but recognize the distinction between citizen and non-citizen, but even that distinction is treated as artificially constructed or not some deep statement about who anyone is.

The Constitution of 1787 is maybe most striking in its silence on God, in its decision not to employ theology politically.  But not only are persons freed from "civil theology"--from the degrading and destructively seductive illusion of being part of a political whole, they are in a way free from biological nature. The Constitution does not recognize the natural division of members of our species into men and women. Americans are understood to be free to consent to be governed by God and even nature, and the idea of consent, of course, dissolves the authority claimed on behalf of God and nature by the word of the philosophers and theologians of the past.

The founding American limit to this democratic Cartesianism or Lockean individualism was federalism.  

Best not to confuse what any 5 justices say at any given moment for the constitutional order of the Founding.  They reflect only the necessarily limited views--on either side of issues--of quite tiny Ivy League elites.  The Founders never intended for them to be even the arbiters of constitutional questions, never mind social ones.

In establishing a democratic republic the Founders created an anti-individualist and anti-federalist order.  When the Court overturns laws and imposes the views of a temporary majority of its members it is acting in a manner antithetical to the republican liberty at the heart of the Founding, which requires only that every citizen be bound equally by the laws that we pass.  The democratic "I" of the Court opinions discussed here has nothing to do with the republican "I" of the Constitution. Indeed, the founding American limit to Cartesian individualism is the Constitutional Republic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


An immigration crackdown killed -- by conservatives (Juliette Kayyem, 5/15/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The state Senate faced strong opposition to its anti-illegal-immigrant bill from the state chamber of commerce, the farm lobby, and local governments.

Their reasons were all different and not very appealing. Clearly, cheap labor with no regulation animated some of the farm and business groups. Farmers couldn't ignore accounts coming out of Georgia and Alabama of crops rotting in the fields. Cities and towns didn't want the extra work hunting down undocumented workers. The chamber feared the state would suffer boycotts and a hurt reputation.

These groups changed the way immigration is discussed in a state that's about as conservative as can be. Rhetoric about civil rights or racial profiling only goes so far here. Concerns about the business climate, agricultural interests, and government mandates gained traction. With all these "white" interests aligned to defeat the bill, even the most conservative politicians took note.

In Mississippi, the lieutenant governor gets to pick the heads of state Senate committees. Conservative Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves appointed a Democrat, Bob Armory, head of the Judiciary Committee and then sent the bill there. Armory never put it up for a vote. In defending the move that killed the bill, Reeves' spokeswoman said the concerns "expressed by the Mississippi Economic Council, Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Poultry Association, and local cities, counties, police chiefs, and sheriffs" weighed heavily.

Missing from that list is anything related to immigrants or their rights. The opposition spoke the language that would win in a conservative state. The victory may be discomforting, but it is a victory nonetheless.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Bush: Embrace change over 'so-called stability' in Arab Spring (Catherine Chomiak and Domenico Montanaro, 5/15/12, NBC)

A stone's throw away from the White House, former President George W. Bush said today the world is in an "extraordinary" time for freedom and that the changes of the Arab Spring should be embraced despite the uncertain future that comes with them.

Bush said those who say the dangers of democratic change are too great and that America should be in favor of stability over change are unrealistic.

"In the long run, this foreign-policy approach is not realistic," Bush argued, "It is not realistic to presume that so-called stability enhances our national security. Nor is it within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable."

Bush advocated a clear stand. "American's message should ring clear and strong," Bush said. "We stand for freedom -- and for the institutions and habit that make freedom work for everyone."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Syrian Kurdish dissident: Break Syria into pieces (JONATHAN SPYER, 05/16/2012, Jerusalem Post)

Sherkoh Abbas, a veteran Syrian Kurdish dissident, called on Israel this week to support the break-up of Syria into a series of federal structures based on the country's various ethnicities. [...]

Syrian Kurdish, Druse, Alawite and Sunni Arab federal areas, he suggested, would have no interest in aligning with Iran.

May 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Tiny Hand Over Hand (JULIE BOSMAN, 5/12/12, NY Times)

Ashima had just begun a two-week climbing expedition this spring at Hueco Tanks, a state park that is a mecca for bouldering enthusiasts, 860 acres of rock masses surrounded by endless desert and sky 30 miles northeast of El Paso.

Three days after she arrived, she stunned the bouldering world by climbing Crown of Aragorn, an exceedingly difficult route that requires climbers to contort their bodies and hang practically upside down by their fingers as they navigate a rock that juts out from the ground at a 45-degree angle.

On the scale of V0 to V16 that governs bouldering, Crown of Aragorn is a V13, a level that only a few female climbers had reached.

None were 10 years old, as she was.

Ashima, a petite girl with pale skin, a toothy smile and a thick fringe of bangs cut in a perfect line across her forehead, is not only the best climber her age in the United States, or maybe anywhere, but her accomplishments have already placed her among the elite in the sport.

In 2008, when she was only 7, she began sending problems -- bouldering lingo for ascending routes -- that some adult climbers could not handle.

On a trip to Hueco in 2010, she climbed a V10 called Power of Silence. The next year, she ascended a V11/12 called Chablanke.

At the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championship in Colorado Springs in March, she easily came in first place, all 4 feet 5 inches and 63 pounds of her.

Before finishing fifth grade, Ashima, who recently turned 11, is redefining what physical tools are required to be an elite climber and showing how a child can hold her own against professional climbers who are adults.

This summer, she will accompany a group of American climbers for an expedition in South Africa, where she will be the only child climber in the bunch.

"She's this adorable little girl who climbs hard and cries when she doesn't send," said Andrew Tower, the editor in chief of Urban Climber magazine. "Her climbing I.Q. is so high, you show her how to do something and she soaks it up really quickly. She understands innately how to move."

It did not take a pro to see that there was something unusual going on at the time Ashima started climbing in 2007, when she was 6.

Her parents, Tsuya and Hisatoshi Shiraishi, had immigrated from Japan in 1978 and settled in a loft in Chelsea. When Ashima, their only child, was 2, they began taking her to Central Park in search of amusement.

One afternoon when Ashima was in kindergarten, they wandered over to Rat Rock, a boulder 15 feet high and 40 feet wide at the south end of the park that is a favorite spot for amateur climbers.

Ashima joined the other climbers and began to scurry up the rock without help, so focused on her climbing that she begged to stay at Rat Rock through the dinner hour. Finally, when it became so dark that Ashima could not see the rock anymore, they went home.

The Shiraishis were mystified. "We didn't even know that climbing was a sport," her father, Hisatoshi Shiraishi, said later.

But he knew that his little girl was good.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM



1. Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?
2. PAUL KRUGMANWhy We Regulate
3. OPINION Capitalists and Other Psychopaths

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


What Happened to Israel's Reputation?: How in 40 years the Jewish state went from inspiring underdog to supposed oppressor. (MICHAEL OREN, 5/14/12, WSJ)

Some claim that Israel today is a Middle Eastern power that threatens its neighbors, and that conservative immigrants and extremists have pushed Israel rightward. Most damaging, they contend, are Israel's policies toward the territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, toward the peace process and the Palestinians, and toward the construction of settlements.

Israel may seem like Goliath vis-à-vis the Palestinians, but in a regional context it is David. 

Which makes it the overdog.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Kid Rock, DSO concert raises $1 million, but also profile of orchestra with new audience (Mark Stryker, 5/14/12, Detroit Free Press)

You can't witness thousands of rabid Kid Rock fans rewarding the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with a roaring standing ovation and breaking into chants of "DSO! DSO!" without recognizing elitist stereotypes about classical music being put out to pasture. [...]

I had long admired Kid Rock's dedication to Detroit and knew that his decision to donate his services to raise money for the DSO was not out of character. But not being familiar with his collective oeuvre, I had thought of him as little more than a musical cartoon.

I came away from Saturday's concert impressed not only with his off-the-chart energy and showmanship but also his professionalism, the sing-song tunefulness of some of his songs and even his raspy vocals, which were both expressive and consistently in tune.

It would be silly to pretend that Saturday's concert will convert a bunch of Kid Rock fans into DSO ticket buyers. But that's not the point. The fundamental challenge facing orchestras is that the threads that once linked classical music to the broad fabric of civic life and popular culture have been severed. Saturday was about re-stitching a connection.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Schumpeter in the White House : How to talk about creative destruction (Guy Sorman, Spring 2012, City Journal)

An essential part of the free-market argument is "creative destruction," a theory proposed by the great Austrian economist and Harvard University professor Joseph Schumpeter. If you don't understand Schumpeter's insight--expressed most powerfully in his classic 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy--you'll have a hard time understanding why free markets work so well to generate prosperity. Yet creative destruction is a complicated concept, poorly understood by the general public and not always easy to defend. As November nears, the Republican nominee will have to figure out a way to show voters how essential it is to American prosperity.

Schumpeter believed that progress in a capitalist economy requires that the old give way constantly to the new: production technologies in a free economy improve constantly, and new products and services are always on offer. But this creative transformation also has a destructive side, since it makes earlier products and services--and the workers who provided them--obsolete. Today's consumers have little reason to buy an oil lamp instead of a lightbulb, or a Sony Walkman instead of an iPod--which can be bad news for the people who manufacture the oil lamp and the Walkman.

Looking back at the history of Western capitalism, we can see how the discovery of new energy sources, new communications systems, and new financial instruments regularly demolished old ways of doing things. When this happened, the result was typically short-term pain, as certain workers found themselves displaced, and sometimes even what appeared to be economic crises; but there was also substantial long-term gain, as the economy became more efficient and productive. Economists W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm point to transportation as a striking example of the process. "With the arrival of steam power in the nineteenth century, railroads swept across the United States, enlarging markets, reducing shipping costs, building new industries, and providing millions of new productive jobs," they write. Automobiles and airplanes had similar effects. Yet "each new mode of transportation took a toll on existing jobs and industries. In 1900, the peak year for the occupation, the country employed 109,000 carriage and harness makers. In 1910, 238,000 Americans worked as blacksmiths. Today, those jobs are largely obsolete."

Creative destruction can take place not just across sectors of the economy but within particular firms, too. Since the invention of the automobile, many automakers have disappeared, unable to improve their products; those that survived have had to transform themselves radically to stay competitive. Sometimes firms even change their business to stay alive. Think of IBM, which started in 1930 by building calculating machines, shifted to computers in the 1950s, and today is a service company.

Trying to prevent creative destruction brings economic torpor or worse. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM


Mike McGrady, Known for a Literary Hoax, Dies at 78 (MARGALIT FOX, May 14, 2012, NY Times)

Mike McGrady, a prizewinning reporter for Newsday who to his chagrin was best known as the mastermind of one of the juiciest literary hoaxes in America -- the best-selling collaborative novel "Naked Came the Stranger," whose publication in 1969 made "Peyton Place" look like a church picnic -- died on Sunday in Shelton, Wash. [...]

Intended to be a work of no redeeming social value and even less literary value, "Naked Came the Stranger" by all appearances succeeded estimably on both counts.

Originally issued by Lyle Stuart, an independent publisher known for subversive titles, the novel was a no-holds-barred chronicle of a suburban woman's sexual liaisons, with each chapter recounting a different escapade:

She has sex with a mobster and sex with a rabbi. She has sex with a hippie and sex with at least one accountant. There is a scene involving a tollbooth, another involving ice cubes and still another featuring a Shetland pony.

The book's cover -- a nude woman seen from behind -- left little to the imagination, as, in its way, did its prose:

"Ernie found what Cervantes and Milton had only sought. He thought the fillings in his teeth would melt."

The purported author was Penelope Ashe, who as the jacket copy told it was a "demure Long Island housewife." In reality, Mr. McGrady had dreamed up the book as ironic commentary on the public's appetite for Jacqueline Susann and her ilk.

For interviews and public appearances, Mr. McGrady conscripted his sister-in-law Billie Young to pose as Mrs. Ashe.

"Naked Came the Stranger," which remains in print, has sold about 400,000 copies, according to its current publisher, Barricade Books, which rereleased it in 2004.

That year, The Village Voice rapturously described the book as being "of such perfectly realized awfulness that it will suck your soul right out of your brainpan and through your mouth, and you will happily let it go."

First published in summer 1969, "Naked Came the Stranger" quickly sold 20,000 copies. Later that summer, Mr. McGrady and his co-conspirators came clean, and news of the book's genesis made headlines round the world. By the end of the year, the novel had spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

"What has always worried me," Mr. McGrady told Newsday in 1990, "are the 20,000 people who bought it before the hoax was exposed."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Château Sucker: Rare-wine collectors are savvy, competitive guys with a taste for impossible finds. The biggest hoax in history took place right under their noses. (Benjamin Wallace Published May 13, 2012, New York)

A score of Southern California's biggest grape nuts had gathered at the restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica that Friday for a $4,800-a-head vertical tasting of irresistible rarities provided by Kurniawan: Pétrus in a dozen vintages, reaching as far back as 1921, in magnums.

Although Pétrus is now among the most famous wines in the world, it gained its exalted status relatively recently; before World War II, it was virtually unheard of, and finding large-format bottles that had survived from the twenties bordered on miraculous. Paul Wasserman, the son of prominent Burgundy importer Becky Wasserman, is something like wine royalty, but before this event, the oldest Pétrus he had tasted was from 1975.

Nonetheless, two bottles left him scratching his head. The 1947 lacked the unctuousness of right-bank Bordeaux from that legendary vintage, and the 1961 struck him as "very young." He briefly entertained the idea of "possible fakes"--'61 Pétrus in magnum has fetched up to $28,440 at auction--and jotted, in his notes on the '47, "If there's one bottle I have serious doubts about tonight, this is it."

But in the rare-wine world, doubts are endemic; murkiness is built into a product that is concealed by tinted glass and banded wooden cases and opaque provenance and the fog of history. At the same time, the whole apparatus of the rare-wine market is about converting doubt into mystique. Most wealthy collectors want to spend big and drink famous labels, not necessarily ask questions or hear the answers. Guests at tastings don't want to bite the hand that quenches them. Auctioneers may not want to risk losing consignments by nitpicking ambiguous bottles. Winemakers don't like to talk about counterfeiting, for fear of the taint. Also, one thing not high on the FBI's list of investigative priorities: billionaires getting snowed by wine forgers. It's clear to everyone on this rarefied circuit that wine fraud is rampant. It's also clear not many insiders feel an urgency to do anything about it. that, as blind taste tests have shown, one wine tastes just like another. Buy it by the box.

May 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Paul Krugman's Dismissal of Structural Causes for U.S. Employment Problem Is Misguided: The Nobel laureate insists our unemployment problems are part of a chronic cycle and require government action--and says arguing the issue is structural is an excuse for doing nothing. Zachary Karabell on why that stance is misguided. (Zachary Karabell, 5/14/12, Daily Beast)

For four years, the United States has been grappling with high unemployment and underemployment. While there has been noticeable improvement since the plunge in late 2008-2009, and while there is no longer a crisis of job losses, there is nonetheless a chronic employment problem in the United States.

Why this is the case has been the source of a heated and increasingly imperative debate: is the issue cyclical or structural? Is the problem the result of a particular recession and crisis that began in late 2007 and intensified in 2008-2009, or is it instead a long-term shift in the nature of our economy?

This debate has become increasingly heated, especially because those who claim the problem is cyclical have a tendency to describe those who see the problem as structural as partisan tools of a right-wing agenda that preaches slashing government spending, reducing debt, and balancing budgets in the name of long-term austerity and balance. [...]

The only correlate to the current transition occurred more than a century ago as agriculture became more mechanized, which led to the massive displacement of farmers and helped cause the Great Depression. That began a process that saw tens of millions displaced from farms to the point that fewer than 2 million farmers today produce far more food than 30 million did in1900. Today, the same transition has been occurring in manufacturing, a process that began in the 1970s and which the Internet/stock market bubble of the 1990s and then the housing bubbled of the mid-2000s only partly obscured.

The main difference between the two eras is that for thirty years we artificially boosted employment for social reasons--white men hired women and blacks--even as that domestic technological revolution and foreign economic liberalization were removing any justification for the jobs of the hirers, never mind the hired.  It's not that Mr. Krugman is necessarily wrong about employment being a cycle, just that we're at the top of it, not the bottom, and not even back down to the equilibrium point yet.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


AP Exclusive: Moderate Taliban speaks of divisions (KATHY GANNON, 5/14/12, Associated Press)

In an exclusive and rare interview by a member of the so-called Quetta Shura, Motasim told The Associated Press Sunday that a majority of Taliban wants a peace settlement and that there are only "a few" hard-liners in the movement.

"There are two kinds of Taliban. The one type of Taliban who believes that the foreigners want to solve the problem but there is another group and they don't believe, and they are thinking that the foreigners only want to fight," he said by telephone. "I can tell you, though, that the majority of the Taliban and the Taliban leadership want a broad-based government for all Afghan people and an Islamic system like other Islamic countries."

But Motasim chastised the West, singling out the United States and Britain, for failing to bolster the moderates within the fundamentalist Islamic movement by refusing to recognize the Taliban as a political identity and backtracking on promises __ all of which he said strengthens the hard-liners and weakens moderates like himself.

He lamented Sunday's assassination in Kabul of Arsala Rahmani, a member of the Afghan government-appointed peace council who was active in trying to set up formal talks with insurgents. Rahmani served as deputy minister of higher education in the former Taliban regime but later reconciled with the current Afghan government.

"He was a nationalist. We respected him," Motasim said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


The Boom on the Farm (Robert Samuelson, 5/14/12, Washington Post)

Sitting in the cab of a $350,000 John Deere tractor pulling a $150,000 Deere corn planter, Greg Carson embodies modern American agriculture. It's capital-intensive, high-tech, efficient -- and now immensely profitable. Looking for a bright spot in the U.S. economy? The farm belt is it. [...]

American agriculture transcends the Midwest farm belt. It also includes fruit and vegetable producers, poultry operators and cattle ranchers. But most of these others, dairy farmers excepted, are largely unsubsidized. Meanwhile, subsidies going mostly to grain and cotton now average about $12 billion annually, reports the Agriculture Department.

Begun in the Great Depression, these subsidies could once be justified as cushioning farming's enduring insecurities: bad weather, big shifts in supply and demand, crop infestations. But most industries now face comparable uncertainties from new technologies, global markets and erratic business cycles. Congress is writing a new farm bill and is struggling with how much to trim subsidies. But why should prosperous grain farmers and absentee owners receive special treatment and windfalls? The proper level of subsidies is simple: zero. 

May 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Obama is his mother's son (David Maraniss, 5/13/12, Washington Post)

Barack Obama's relationship with his mother was complicated. She called him Barry or Bar (sounds like bear). She pushed him to be serious and to look at people with empathy. He always felt protective of her, according to his memoir. He describes a scene in which she told him that she intended to marry Lolo Soetoro and that, after the marriage, they would all live in Indonesia. As Obama recalls it, he turned to her and asked, "But do you love him?" -- a question that made her chin tremble. It was, at the least, precocious. At the time he was only 31 / 2. But it was also in keeping with one of the themes that weaves through his dealings with his mother over the years -- that she was naive and idealistic, sometimes too good for her own good. In the journal that his New York girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, kept during their time together in the early 1980s, Cook wrote, "Told me the other night of having pushed his mother away over past 2 years in an effort to extract himself from the role of supporting man in her life -- she feels rejected and has withdrawn somewhat."

Ann once joked that she had children with a Kenyan and an Indonesian so that the kids would not have light skin and get sunburns. She herself looked like a Kansas schoolmarm, she noted, which made it easy for her to sail through Customs during her foreign comings and goings. Barry, the hapa Kenyan, and his little sister Maya, the hapa Indonesian, could never say the same. The mother and her two children struggled to find their identities, but in very different ways. Ann found hers through her work and travels, a lifestyle that, among other things, meant she and her son were apart for most of his adolescence, he in Honolulu with his grandparents, she in Indonesia. The search for identity was more psychological for her children, something that Maya said her mother must have understood but never fully acknowledged. In her career, Ann was idealistic but not naive. If she at times came across as naive to her children, it was in the role of a mother not wanting her children to suffer.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


A Startling Thesis on Islam's Origins: a review of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire By Tom Holland (MALISE RUTHVEN, 5/11/12, WSJ)

At the heart of the mystery is the Quran. Muslims believe it to have been transmitted orally by Muhammad before being written down and collected under the Caliph Uthman, who reigned from 644 to 656. The Quran, as well as celebrating the divine in nature with veiled allusions to historical places and events, makes reference to stories contained in the Old and New Testaments and to theological ideas in Gnostic and other heretical texts. No less important, the Quran is the foremost source for Muhammad's life.

"Compared to the bogs and quicksand of other sources for the life of the Prophet," says Mr. Holland, "the book of his revelations does authentically appear to offer us something precious: something almost like solid ground." For the historian, however, this is more of a problem than a solution. The text is short on details of places and persons: There is only one reference to Mecca, four to Muhammad himself. Mr. Holland explains that, "unlike the Bible, which name-checks any number of conveniently datable rulers--from Cyrus to Augustus--the Quran betrays what is, to any historian, a most regrettable lack of interest in geopolitics. Those who are named in its pages tend to be angels, demons or prophets. . . . The focus of the Quran is fixed implacably, not on the personal but on the divine."

Mr. Holland finds that much of the Quranic imagery associated with Muhammad's Qurayshite opponents--generally referred to as idolators--does not tally with the Quran's supposedly Arabian provenance. For example, the idolators are condemned for slitting the ears of their livestock or exempting certain cattle from having to carry a load. Such details are puzzling, as Mr. Holland shows: "Mecca, a place notoriously dry and barren, is not, most agronomists would agree, an obvious spot for cattle ranching--just as the volcanic dust that constitutes its soil is signally unsuited to making 'grain grow, and vines, fresh vegetation . . . fruit and fodder,' " as mentioned in the Quran.

When elucidating the occasions when Muhammad is supposed to have received his divine messages, later Muslim chroniclers, including Muhammad's earliest biographers, filled gaps in the Quranic narrative, supplying the missing details from the vast corpus of hadiths. These reports were orally transmitted over many generations before being written down in various collections, several of which acquired canonical status.

Some early Muslim authorities expressed doubts about the historical value of the hadiths, as do scholars raised in the rigorous traditions of modern textual criticism. The problem, however, is that the edifice of hadiths--including those from which the narrative of the prophet's life was constructed some two centuries after his death--now constitute the sunna, the prophet's exemplary custom, which forms the foundations of Islamic law and practice. To abandon the hadiths, the liberal scholar Fazlur Rahman argued in 1965, would be to open up a "yawning chasm of fourteen centuries" between the time of the prophet and today's believers.

As a historian of late antiquity Mr. Holland can afford to ignore such inhibitions. He fills the "yawning chasm" of our knowledge with evidence culled from a much wider variety of sources--Zoroastrian and Persian, Jewish and Roman, Christian and Gnostic--than are usually considered by specialists. Without discarding the role of supernatural agencies altogether, he contextualizes them within the broader framework of the beliefs about religion, politics, power and authority that characterized the world of late antiquity.

Mr. Holland admits that his answers are "unashamedly provisional," but he traces a broad arc that connects the rise of Islam with the religious themes that accompanied the decline of the imperial systems of Rome, Byzantium and Persia. His conclusions may be tentative, but they are convincing. His book is elegantly written and refreshingly free from specialist jargon. Marshaling its resources with dexterity, it is a veritable tour de force.

In a view that Mr. Holland takes forward from Wansbrough and his disciples, Islam was born not in the deserts of Arabia but in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars--the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The Ting Tings On World Cafe (World Cafe, 5/11/12)

Messier than We Started Nothing, Sounds from Nowheresville is closer to the punk scene that originally brought White and Jules De Martino together. While it's probably not what fans of The Ting Tings' cleaner, poppier sound expected, it suits the duo's attitudes. White and De Martino discuss their eclectic sophomore album in today's episode of World Cafe.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Booker T bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn dies Bass guitarist dies in Tokyo aged 70 (NME, 5/13/12)

The M.G.'s were the house band for STAX records and Dunn can be heard on a number of tracks including Otis Redding's 'Respect' and Albert King's 'Born Under A Bad Sign'.

The bassist had been in the Japanese city to play a series of concerts as part of a STAX show, featuring Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd, and had played two gigs on Saturday night. Cropper posted on his Facebook page that Dunn had died in his sleep this morning (May 13).

He wrote: Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live. Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning in Tokyo Japan after finishing 2 shows at the Blue Note Night Club.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Is There a Romney Doctrine? (DAVID E. SANGER, 5/12/12, NY Times)

[W]hen pressed on how, exactly, his strategy would differ from Mr. Obama's, Mr. Romney had a hard time responding. The economic sanctions Mr. Obama has imposed have been far more crippling to the Iranian economy than anything President Bush did between the public revelation of Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities in 2003 and the end of Mr. Bush's term in early 2009. Covert action has been stepped up, too. Mr. Bolton has called efforts to negotiate with Iran "delusional," but other advisers -- mostly those who dealt with the issue during the Bush administration -- say they are a critical step in holding together the European allies and, if conflict looms, proving to Russia and China that every effort was made to come to a peaceful resolution. Several e-mails to the campaign asking for Mr. Romney's position on the talks yielded no response.

"There are two very different worldviews in this campaign," said one adviser who aligns more often with Mr. Bolton. "But as in any campaign, there are outer circles, inner circles and inner-inner circles, and I'm not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own on this." Another adviser, saying he would be "cashiered" if the campaign caught him talking to a reporter without approval, said the real answer was that "Romney doesn't want to really engage these issues until he is in office" and for now was "just happy to leave the impression that when Obama says he'll stop an Iranian bomb he doesn't mean it, and Mitt does."

He won't differ from the UR any more than the UR has from W.  You just have to pretend that you'll be different so that you appeal to the dissatisfied.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Sir David Jason: Political correctness is killing the British sense of humour (Richard Eden, 13 May 2012, Telegraph)

As the star of Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours, Sir David Jason is responsible for some of the most amusing moments on television. The comic actor says many of them would, however, never make it to the screen these days because of a growing "political correctness" that is killing comedy.

"We seem to have lost our British sense of humour," he tells Mandrake. "It's a great shame. We have to be so careful nowadays, we've lost a lot of humour by people being frightened of getting to near touchy subjects. It's a great loss to comedy."

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Target man: Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to be assassinated, had made an army of enemies (ANDRO LINKLATER, 5 MAY 2012, Spectator)

John Bellingham dressed fastidiously. On the day that he committed murder, he wore exactly what the fashion magazine Le Beau Monde advised for a gentleman's morning wear in 1812 -- a chocolate broadcloth coat, clay-coloured denim breeches and calf-length boots, the whole set off by a waspish black-and-yellow waistcoat. By contrast, his victim, clad in the equivalent of a business suit -- blue coat and dark twill trousers -- was almost ­anonymous.

But Spencer Perceval had no need for display. Not only was he prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, but, thanks to the insanity of George III and the loyal support of a majority of MPs, he had achieved a unique degree of political power. And when Bellingham confronted him in the lobby of the House of Commons on Monday 11 May, and fired a bullet into his chest from close range, Perceval also experienced the unique distinction of becoming the only British prime minister in history to be assassinated.

Other than an occasional reference in footnotes and pub quizzes, this startling crime has passed into oblivion, dismissed as the act of a lone gunman who, although generally thought to be 'deranged', was quickly tried, found guilty and hanged on the ­Monday following the murder. More surprisingly, Perceval also disappeared from view, remembered only by specialist historians for his ferocious oppression of the Luddites -- he made it a capital offence to break a machine -- Catholics, and political reformers. Yet for a democracy that since 2001 has cocooned its political leaders in security for fear of assassination, the circumstances of a prime minister's murder should be of consuming interest.

May 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


A compelling plan for Iranian talks (David Ignatius, 5/12/12, Washington Post)

The basic idea of the Carnegie proposal is to create a "firewall" between Iran's civilian nuclear program, which it could pursue, and a military bomb-making program, which it couldn't. Along with separating permissible from impermissible, the Carnegie authors propose special procedures for dual-use technologies that are near the dividing line.

A big selling point for the Iranians is that this approach is based on the pledge by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Iran won't build nuclear weapons. Khamenei's most explicit statement came on state television in February: "Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous."

President Obama sent a back-channel communication to Khamenei in March that his fatwa banning nuclear weapons would be a good starting point for negotiations. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the message when he met Khamenei on March 29. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated Obama's theme during the first round of negotiations with the Iranians in Istanbul on April 14.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


The New Phrenology: How liberal psychopundits understand the conservative brain. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 5/21/12, Weekly Standard)

A paper called "Power, Distress, and Compassion: Turning a Blind Eye to the Suffering of Others" describes a study put together by a team of social psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, a few years ago. Graduate assistants managed to collect 118 undergraduates, most of them under the age of 21. The kids agreed to participate in the experiment because they were given $15 or class credit for a psychology requirement. A skeptic might point out that the sample of participants was thus skewed from the start, unnaturally weighted toward either kids who badly need $15 or psych majors. And all of them, by definition, were the kinds of kids who want to go to college at Berkeley. Almost half of the participants were Asian American; only 3.5 percent were African American. Caucasians made up less than 30 percent.

The group the researchers studied is not, in other words, a demographic cross section of humanity. It's not a ride through Walt Disney's "It's a Small World." It has no claim to the randomness that sampling requires. It is therefore an odd gang from which to extract truths about human behavior. Indeed, speaking as a former resident, I can attest that human behavior in Berkeley, California, is unlike human behavior anywhere else in the world. But the method by which these human truths were drawn was even less plausible. The setting the researchers constructed for their experiment was exquisite in its artificiality. To see how powerful people react in real life, the professors began by giving the kids a questionnaire asking them how powerful they felt. ("Agree or disagree: I think I have a great deal of power.") The students were then divided into pairs and seated facing each other, two feet apart. Each student had a video camera trained on him and was wired to an electrocardiogram through receptors taped to his torso. 

Then the students told each other traumatic stories from their personal experience, lasting no more than five minutes. The stories were supposed to be upsetting, or "emotionally evocative." 

After many regression analyses and much hierarchical linear modeling, the professors discovered that their conclusion matched their hypothesis: The "powerful" students--that is, the students who said on the questionnaire that they were feeling powerful that morning--showed less dramatic reactions to the stories than other students. Or, as the professors put it: "Our data suggest that social power attenuates emotional reactions to those who suffer." 

I told you it was boring. It was also preposterous, at least as an experiment designed to test a hypothesis. The questionable assumptions fairly cry out from where they're buried. Just for starters, can a questionnaire asking a college sophomore how powerful he feels tell us whether he's powerful? Researchers never measured the elements that made an "emotionally evocative story"; the stories were rated by grad-student coders whose own feelings of powerfulness were unrecorded. And underlying the endeavor was the silliest buried assumption of them all, that the way a college kid reacts in a psych lab while he's wired to a machine and jabbered at by a stranger has some--any--relation to how "rich and powerful" people (Edsall's phrase) live their lives. 

If such a study claimed to prove a different conclusion, and presumed to tell us that rich and powerful people were more compassionate than those with less wealth and lower social standing, we could expect our psychopundits to approach it with more of the skepticism that journalists are so famous for. But skepticism would put a psychopundit out of a job, and so the violations of logic and common sense simply ramify. Among the studies that constitute the recent "academic critique of the right," one used participants--more than 65 percent of them female--solicited over Craigslist; another recruited participants through Amazon's Mechanical Turk website. Neither sample could possibly represent any group other than itself. 

The samples are even odder when you consider that Edsall and his fellow psychopundits construed these studies, which were about the rich and powerful, to show how conservatives and Republicans behave. In most of the studies, Asian Americans made up nearly 50 percent or more of the participants. But Asian Americans are the most liberal ethnic group in America--"the only group," Gallup says, "that has a higher proportion of [self-identified] liberals than conservatives." 

That the "rich and powerful" are identical to conservatives and Republicans--Edsall's assumption--is a hoary idea dear to many Democrats and essential to their self-image as the opponents of privilege. It persists even though many of the plushest and most powerful institutions of American life are in the hands of liberal Democrats: public and private universities, government bureaucra-cies, nonprofit foundations, movie studios, television networks, museums, newspapers and magazines, Silicon Valley .  .  . Among the fabled "1 percent," according to Gallup, the number of self-identified Republicans is only slightly greater than the number of Democrats. As Christopher Caldwell has pointed out in these pages, political donations from 19 of the 20 richest ZIP codes in the United States go overwhelmingly to Democrats, by a ratio of four to one or more. Democrats are the party of what Democrats used to call the superrich. Only Democrats seem not to realize this.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Science and the Republican Brain (Lee Harris, April 30, 2012, The American)

 If anti-science means challenging the scientific consensus of one's own epoch, then all the great scientists of the past have been anti-science. As the historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated, every scientific revolution begins by overturning the dominant scientific paradigm of its time. According to Kuhn, those who adhere to the old paradigm never actually change their minds. Instead, they (and their Republican brains) simply die off, making place for the followers of the new paradigm, who will cling with Republican brain tenacity to the new scientific creed.

Needless to say, this is not the popular image of how scientists behave, but one main purpose of Kuhn's ground-breaking work was to shatter the unsophisticated ideas about science and the scientific method that are prevalent in our pop culture, and to which Chris Mooney appeals in his book. A willingness to change your mind because the facts have changed may be an admirable quality, but, fortunately for us all, this is not how real scientists have behaved.

Of course, simply challenging the dominant scientific paradigm of the day does not necessarily make you a great scientist. It may simply make you a crackpot. Every inventor of a perpetual motion machine, for example, is trying to disprove Lord Kelvin's laws of thermodynamics, just as today's creationists are intent on disproving Darwin. Surely we are entitled to call such crackpots anti-science, aren't we?

This is certainly tempting, but there is a serious problem with classifying all crackpots as anti-science. More than once in the history of science, the crackpot of one generation has been hailed as a visionary by the next. Indeed, during the seminal period marked by a major paradigm shift, it is often impossible to distinguish the pseudo-scientific crackpot from the genuine scientific revolutionary.

If anti-science means challenging the scientific consensus of one's own epoch, then all the great scientists of the past have been anti-science.

Take the example of Johannes Kepler, who was both. During his lifetime, Kepler was courted by the high and mighty for his mastery of the arcane pseudo-science of astrology. It is hard to get more anti-science than that. Yet today Kepler is honored as one of the most important contributors to the advance of modern astronomy, though, even in this respect, Kepler remained a bit of a crackpot. To understand his ambiguous role, we must first go back to Copernicus and his great scientific revolution.

When Copernicus made his daring conjecture placing the sun at the center of the then known universe, he had only half-dispelled the old Ptolemaic paradigm. Copernicus made the earth revolve around the sun, along with the other planets, but he could not shake off the Platonic fixation with perfect circles that had been embodied in the Ptolemaic system. In Copernicus's new astronomy, the earth and planets might revolve around the sun, but they still had to revolve in perfect circles. The reason for this seemed quite obvious at the time. Because there was an infinite number of different oval shapes, God, the designer of the universe, had no reason to pick one particular oval shape over another. He would have needed to resort to a process that involved arbitrary choice, for example, by going "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" among the possible elliptical orbits. But for Copernicus, just as for Einstein, God did not play dice. Therefore, God would stick to perfect circles, since this was the only rational choice He could make.

Kepler disagreed. It was not that he thought God played dice, any more than Copernicus did. There was still an intelligent design behind the orbit of the planets, but it was not quite as obvious as everyone had supposed. Going back again to Plato, Kepler discovered that the key to deciphering the mystery of the cosmos lay not in perfect circles, but in three-dimensional polyhedrons known as Platonic solids: The octahedron, the icosahedron, the dodecahedron, the tetrahedron, and the cube. These were the ideal models that God had relied upon in laying down the orbits of the then known planets.

You don't have to understand anything about polyhedrons in order to sense that there was something a bit crackpot in Kepler's reasoning. After all, we are taught that scientists are supposed to look at empirical evidence, not attempt to fathom the inner workings of the mind of God. Yet historians of science recognize that Kepler's far-fetched theorizing marked an enormous breakthrough. Having broken the spell of the perfect circle, the path was now open to permitting the planets to revolve around the sun in different ellipses. Modern astronomy was finally up and running, thanks to Kepler's crackpot polyhedrons.

More than once in the history of science, the crackpot of one generation has been hailed as a visionary by the next.
The importance of this step cannot be overestimated. Before Kepler, the Copernican revolution seemed doomed to failure. This was not simply because the Church opposed it, but because it flunked the first challenge that a new scientific theory must face in order to gain general acceptance: It must explain and predict observable phenomena better than its rival. When it came to predicting eclipses and other signal astronomical data, however, the old Ptolemaic system, with its elaborate multitude of epicycles, did a better job than the Copernican model. If good scientists are supposed to change their minds when confronted with evidence that goes against their own theory, then the proponents of the Copernican system should have changed theirs. But they didn't. Like Darwin, they held on tenaciously to their preferred model, despite the scientific evidence against it.

In short, the so-called Republican brain, with its deep resistance to yielding before mere scientific evidence, has played an indispensable role in the making of modern science, long before the emergence of the Grand Old Party in 1856. This fact, however, has been obscured for most of us because of the way in which we learn science in our classrooms. that as the paradigms continued to shift they arrived back at the point that those Republican brains had defended against Copernicus and Kepler, with not just the Earth, but Man himself at the center of the Universe.  
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


'Sonic weapon' deployed in London during Olympics (Gavin Thomas, 5/12/12, BBC News)

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed a device which can be used as a "sonic weapon" will be deployed in London during the Olympics.

The American-made Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) can be used to send verbal warnings over a long distance or emit a beam of pain-inducing tones. [...]

The piercing beam of sound emitted by the device is highly directional. Some versions of the LRAD are capable of producing deafening sound levels of 150 decibels at one metre. [...]

It has been successfully used aboard ships to repel Somali pirates.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Teenage organ donor saves eight lives (The Telegraph, 5/11/12)

Jemima Layzell, who went to Taunton School in Somerset, had told her parents she wanted her body to help save others in the event of her death. The teenager collapsed at home in Horton, Somerset, and died in hospital on March 14.

Her heart has gone to a five-year-old boy, a 14-year-old was given her lungs and her liver helped two boys, aged 10 months and five. Two people received her kidneys, a man was given her pancreas and her small bowel went to a boy, three.

Jemima, who aspired to become an author, also donated eye tissue which will restore two people's sight.

May 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Obama campaign adds 'clean coal' to website after Republican outcry (Chris Moody, 5/11/12, The Ticket)

President Obama's campaign website added "clean coal" to a list of energy priorities late this week, days after Republican lawmakers noted the omission and a federal inmate received about 40 percent of the vote against Obama in the Democratic primary in coal-heavy West Virginia.

Previously, the campaign's website highlighted "fuel efficiency" on a list of seven energy priorities, but it has been replaced by "clean coal" and the site now touts Obama's "10-year goal to develop and deploy cost-effective clean coal technology." that he's still trapped in primary politics will his opponent has moved on to the general.  The UR's gyrations on gays and coal are classic indicators of a guy who hasn't secured his base yet.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Placing the American Gas Boom in Perspective (Vaclav Smil, May 3, 2012, The American)

By the end of the 19th century, traditional biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, and straw, which together dominated energy use for millennia) were reduced to a small fraction of overall energy supply as coal became the principal fuel. The shift away from coal to hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas) began slowly before 1900 in the United States and Russia, and it accelerated only after World War II. By 1970, crude oil supplied 46 percent of the world's energy and its shares were 43 percent in the United States and 50 percent in Europe. There is no mystery about what will come next: Rising consumption of natural gas will eventually make it not only more important than crude oil but the single-most important fossil fuel.

Seen from this perspective, American shale gas production must be viewed as only one, albeit a major, component of gas's global rise. In 1970, natural gas supplied 18 percent of global commercial energy and that share rose to about 24 percent by 2010 (with the EU share going from less than 8 percent to 26 percent), while the worldwide crude oil share fell from 46 percent to 34 percent (and in the EU from 50 percent to 38 percent). Natural gas's rise has been slowed recently by China's extraordinarily high coal extraction rates, but these cannot be repeated in the future (the country is already a large importer of coal). Natural gas will thus continue its conquest of global and national energy supplies, with five factors behind the rise--discoveries of new large fields, diffusion of shale gas production, expansion of LNG exports, high prices of crude oil, and unrivaled efficiency of gas converters.

New giant gas fields have been discovered in such previously unpromising places as the Mediterranean off Israel's shores and deep Atlantic waters offshore near Brazil. There are extensive deposits of gas-bearing shales in Europe (particularly in Poland) and enormous resources in Asia. Recent reductions in the cost of gas liquefaction coupled with increased sizes of LNG tankers (they now rival the size of ships carrying crude oil) made LNG into a trade equivalent of oil: It can now be transported to consumers on any continent, bought without restrictive long-term contracts, and delivered at increasingly affordable prices. The totals speak for themselves: Global LNG trade rose roughly eightfold between 1980 and 2010, and it now accounts for 30 percent of the worldwide natural gas trade.

Little has to be said about high oil prices (the price spread between liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons has reached an unprecedented level), but the conversion efficiencies achievable by furnaces and turbines burning natural gas are not sufficiently appreciated. New, super-efficient household gas furnaces convert up to 97 percent of the fuel into heat; combined-cycle generation (using the waste heat from a gas turbine to raise steam and generate more electricity in an associated steam turbine) now produces electricity with 60 percent efficiency (and 70 percent will be possible in the future).

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE SURPRISINGLY VIOLENT QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP: The Quidditch World Cup sounds dorky, and make no mistake: it is. But these sorcery-loving Harry Potter fans play pretty rough, as ERIC HANSEN found out when he captained a bad-news team of ex-athletes, ultimate Frisbee studs, slobs, drunks, and some people he knows from Iceland. Brooms up, and may the best Muggles win. (ERIC HANSEN, June 2012, Outside)

QUIDDITCH WAS INVENTED at Vermont's Middlebury College in 2005, when a group of buddies--fans of J.K. Rowling, of course--got tired of playing bocce and decided to improvise something more exciting that involved brooms and bath-towel capes. They drew up a loose Quidditch rulebook and encouraged other students at tony schools to play.

In 2007, a reporter from USA Today covered "the first inter-collegiate Quidditch match." Never mind that this was just a scrimmage between the Middlebury guys and some of their high school friends at Vassar. Within months of the story's appearance, the intramural sport had magically spread from campus to campus. With an organizing committee at its helm, it attracted more teams and volunteer administrators and fresh coverage every year--"a remarkable ascension," declared Time magazine in 2010. The height of the mania quickly became the annual World Cup, held each fall and open to any teams registered with the Bedford Hills, New York-based International Quidditch Association.

Two months before the World Cup, this magazine's editorial director asked if I was interested in recruiting a team. Why he asked me I wasn't sure. I certainly wasn't a Potterhead, as fans call themselves. I'd never bought a pewter wand, like my nephew, or a co-branded plush toy, like my niece. I'd never visited the Wizarding World theme park in Orlando, and I certainly hadn't taken sides with Stephen King, who has maintained that the Harry Potter books will last "not just for the decade but for the ages." For that matter, I hadn't taken sides against Yale scholar Harold Bloom, who believed, conversely, that "Rowling's mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing." As to the world-shaping powers of Rowling, I was happily agnostic. I hadn't read any of the books and fell asleep when the movies were screened on planes.

The more I Googled around, however, the more Quidditch piqued my interest. I imagined writing something snarky, maybe poking fun at how Quidditch started out as a decidedly preppy sport, heedless of Rowling's Quidditch Through the Ages, which suggests the game be played on "deserted moorland far from Muggle habitations." Or I'd lampoon its comical misfires: before settling on a tennis ball in a sock, for example, some teams had tried using a remote-controlled helicopter for the snitch.

As for the sport itself, it just seemed like a hoot. A bit of rough and tumble, not a terrible amount of running, harmless competitors. If I gathered some fit New Yorkers, we'd surely have a blast and maybe even win a few games. Injuries were the last thing on my mind.

A week after I contacted the International Quidditch Association, one of the founders--Alex Benepe, now 25 and commissioner of the IQA--e-mailed to say a spot had opened. I was bummed when he strongly suggested that we register as Division 2. Weren't we--whoever we would turn out to be--all-star material? He assured me we'd have challenges enough, playing the likes of Syracuse, Duke, and other teams that had actually been practicing for a year. Also, he wanted to know, since we would be replacing a team of New Zealanders, was there any way we could field an international squad? I told him to register us as Iceland--Hrund's homeland and one of the rare countries in the Northern Hemisphere not already represented--and we were off to the races.

Or not. We made a big recruitment push via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook and through an announcement on Outside's website, but we struggled to sign players.

"Come, win glory!" I said. No! came the replies.

"The more you tell me about this, the less interested I am," said my brother-in-law. No one showed up to the open tryouts in Central Park two weeks later, which happened to take place during a freak snowstorm, and the OMPIQWCT's only practice session, in Central Park a week before the World Cup, enticed just five strangers and acquaintances.

Our confidence grew nonetheless.

"They're history majors and competitors in the Science Cup and stuff," said Josh. "We're big and old and intimidating."

One Spring  at Colgate, we played cricket on the Quad,  with a tennis ball wrapped in tape, a sawed off goalie stick, and milk cartons for the wickets.  When we had to pause to let two professors cross the field, one turned to the other and said: "At least we're importing a better class of ruffians these days."

May 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Public overwhelmingly supports large defense spending cuts (R Jeffrey Smith, 5/10/12, iWatchNews)

The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called "sequestration" legislation passed in 2011, which Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike have claimed would be devastating. [...]

A broad disagreement with the Obama administration's current spending approach -- keeping the defense budget mostly level -- was shared by 75 percent of men and 78 percent of women, all of whom instead backed immediate cuts. That view was also shared by at least 69 percent of every one of four age groups from 18 to 60 and older, although those aged 29 and below expressed much higher support, at 92 percent.

Disagreement with the Obama administration's continued spending on the war in Afghanistan was particularly intense, with 85 percent of respondents expressing support for a statement that said in part, "it is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home." A majority of respondents backed an immediate cut, on average, of $38 billion in the war's existing $88 billion budget, or around 43 percent.

Despite the public's distance from Obama's defense budget, the survey disclosed an even larger gap between majority views and proposals by House Republicans this week to add $3 billion for an extra naval destroyer, a new submarine, more missile defenses, and some weapons systems the Pentagon has proposed to cancel. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has similarly endorsed a significant rise in defense spending.

When it comes to military forces, respondents on average favored at least a 27 percent cut in spending on nuclear arms -- the largest proportional cut of any in the survey. They also supported, on average, a 23 percent cut for ground forces, a 17 percent cut for air power and a 14 percent cut for missile defenses. Modest majorities also said they favored dumping some major individual weapons programs, including the costly F-35 jet fighter, a new long-range strategic bomber, and construction of a new aircraft carrier.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Google's robot cars pass driving test (The Telegraph, 5/09/12)

Google's autonomous cars have passed their first driving test in Nevada, which included a trip along the famous Las Vegas Strip. [...]

Google is one off several firms racing to develop cars able to drive themselves. It is competing with car manufacturers as well as military firms to develop the technology. The web giant's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has argued that the fact that current vehicles rely on human drivers is a "bug".

"It's amazing to me that we let humans drive cars," he said in 2010 as Google ramped up its research,in partnetship with Stanford University.

Why Google's self-driving car may save lives (Peter Valdes-Dapena, May 10, 2012, CNNMoney)

More than 30,000 people are killed each year in crashes despite huge advances in auto safety. The overwhelming majority of those crashes are caused by human-driver error.

Computer driven cars could reduce traffic deaths by a very significant degree, said David Champion, head of auto testing at Consumer Reports, but only if all cars are computer-driven.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


'Immature' kids more likely to get ADHD drugs (The Local, 10 May 12)

Figures from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) show that children born late in the year are diagnosed with - and prescribed drugs for - ADHD much more often than children born earlier in the year.

In Sweden, children who are born in the same calendar year all start school together meaning that kids born in November and December are among the youngest in their classes when they enroll in school.

Thus children who are seen to have trouble focusing in school may be having a hard time, not because they suffer from ADHD, but because they have yet to develop to the same extent as peers born earlier in the year, the statistics suggest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


The Structural Revolution (DAVID BROOKS, 5/07/12, NY Times)

There are several overlapping structural problems. First, there are those surrounding globalization and technological change. Hyperefficient globalized companies need fewer workers. As a result, unemployment rises, superstar salaries surge while lower-skilled wages stagnate, the middle gets hollowed out and inequality grows.

It's difficult to take the hysterics and pessimists seriously when the two major problems of modern life are that we need less and less labor to produce more and more wealth and that one of the side effects is we have so much to eat we've gotten heavier than we used to be. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Young Obama's Poetic Politics (ADAM KIRSCH, 5/09/12, NY Times)

[T]he affinity with Eliot goes deeper than mere style. Mr. Obama speaks respectfully of Eliot's "reactionary" stance, because he sees that "it's due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance." That is, Eliot, like so many of the greatest modern writers, thinks of liberalism as an inherently shallow creed, because of its inability to reckon with the largest things -- death and the meaning of life. Since Hobbes, liberalism has been defined as a form of government designed to preserve us from violent death. But death, Eliot reminds us, can't be avoided, and the trivial concerns of everyday life are just a distraction from that ultimate truth.

That's the import of the mocking lines from the poem Mr. Obama cites, "Four Quartets": "O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,/The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,/The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters. ..."

It is rare for a politician to give the sense that he has genuinely encountered this kind of "fatalism," or despair. After all, politics in a liberal democracy is all about the distribution of worldly rewards; to believe with Eliot that such rewards are essentially futile is to nullify the whole purpose of politics. Mr. Obama's ability to recognize the poetic truth of Eliot's conservatism, while still embracing the practical truth of liberalism, is what makes his letter not just a curiosity but also a hint at the complexity of his mature politics.

Yet the vicissitudes of his presidency prove that possessing an ironic, literary mind is not necessarily a help when it comes to day-to-day governing. The big revelation of the Obama presidency, for intellectuals, is that his authenticity and irony have not succeeded in making him a transformative figure -- that the quality of the president can't be directly deduced from the quality of the man.

...what's really noticeable is the absence of poetry in the man, particularly in contrast to his supposedly illiterate predecessor.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


U.S. bailout of AIG may net an estimated $15.1-billion profit (Jim Puzzanghera, 5/09/12, Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. government could end up pocketing a $15.1-billion profit from the bailout of insurance giant American International Group Inc., according to a new estimate by the Government Accountability Office.

The report came as the Treasury Department this week continued to wind down its stake in AIG, which the government rescued from collapse in late 2008 with a multi-step infusion of $125 billion in taxpayer money to stabilize the company.

May 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator, Is Dead at 91 (ADAM CLYMER, 9/17/11, NY Times)

[J]ust as Illinois voters had tired of Mr. Douglas by 1966, Mr. Percy was old goods by 1984. In a strong Republican year, with President Ronald Reagan campaigning for him, Mr. Percy could not overcome his Democratic opponent, Representative Paul M. Simon.

His position as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee seemed remote to Illinois voters, as did his manner. The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all described him as "pompous."

Mr. Percy never persuaded conservatives to trust him, and some actually supported Mr. Simon in the hope that Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, would succeed him in the chairmanship. The Illinois economy was weak, and Mr. Simon won a narrow victory with 50.1 percent of the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


This Man Can't Vote in West Virginia, but Lots of People Voted for Him (ALEX ALTMAN, May 9, 2012, TIME)
Keith Judd, a.k.a. Inmate #11593-051 at the federal correctional facility in Beaumont, Tex., is a modern Renaissance man: a Rastafarian-Christian, a former member of something called the "Federation of Super Heroes," a musician and NRA member who has bowled a "sanctioned" perfect game. His favorite book is Stephen King's The Stand. His favorite President is Richard Nixon. And on Tuesday night, he notched 41% of the vote in West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary, carrying eight counties despite being incarcerated more than 1,000 miles away.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Brilliant Solar Ads Say Screw The Environment, It's About Paying Less MORGAN CLENDANIEL, 5/08/12, CoExist)

SunRun is a solar company with an interesting model: Instead of just selling you solar panels, they pay to put them on your house, and then you pay them for the energy those panels provide. In other words, for no upfront costs you can start having access to a source of clean energy. What you may not know is that in many places, solar is now the cheapest form of power you can buy, and that list is growing rapidly. To ram this point home, SunRun has just created a brilliant advertising campaign that makes it clear that solar power is a smart financial decision, and not one just for silly hippies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


How We're Holding Back Broadband: Like food rotting on a dock, politics prevent spectrum from getting where it's needed. (Holman Jenkins, 5/08/12, WSJ)

Seen properly, the solution to today's spectrum problem is to permit any spectrum that's immediately deployable to be immediately deployed by those who can make use of it. Tomorrow's problem, which government will have to solve in any case, is to reform spectrum allocation so all users--government, business, military--have incentive to use the airwaves efficiently or transfer their rights to those who can.

Verizon and AT&T, it's true, value spectrum partly because Washington has created artificial scarcity. Nor are they above lobbying to stop new supplies from coming into the wireless market via innovators like LightSquared and Dish.

But spectrum is an input that allows the quickest, cheapest expansion of mobile broadband capacity, and standing in the way is especially dumb right now given what else is going on in the larger broadband marketplace.

A lot of reasons might explain why investment in fiber-to-the-home and advanced DSL has dropped off dramatically. TV was supposed to help carry the weight of such deployments, but the economics of TV are falling apart. Weirdness in Washington and a slow-growth recovery don't help either to whet appetites for investments with long and uncertain paybacks. But whatever the reasons, the withering of the urge by phone companies and others to compete with cable in supplying high-speed bandwidth to homes is a phenomenon that deserves more attention.

We're convinced the biggest factor is paralysis over the potential of wireless to bypass expensively laid physical lines.

Verizon, with the country's first 4G network, already allows users in some neighborhoods to get their home Internet via a wireless link, i.e., a network designed for mobile. Yes, it's expensive and slow for now, as all new bandwidth platforms are at first. Verizon has also experimented in marrying its mobile network with DirecTV to deliver a fully cable-like experience to homes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


A Light Bulb that Breathes: The perfect light bulb. But at $50? (DAVID ZAX, 05/08/2012, Technology Review)

You can't get the Energy Smart LED bulb just yet. It's expected to come out in early 2013, and there's no definitive word on price (a $39-$49 figure has been circulating). Other high-end LED's can run as steep as $60 (to wit, the Philips L Prize LED Bulb; there's an instant rebate of $10, though). Even though the bulbs are pricey, they inevitably amount to lifetime saving in energy costs, given the longevity and efficiency of the bulbs. Businesses have wised up on savings. But for the average consumer, overcoming sticker shock is likely to remain a major obstacle for widespread adoption of this technology. We have been trained to think of bulbs as light, cheap, semi-disposable products. But as a Home Depot employee put it recently: "It's the last bulb you'll ever have to buy."

It may take some getting used to, but LED's are inevitably the future--not least because legislation has actually mandated the development of more efficient bulbs and the phasing out of ones that are less so. Philips, among others, debuted similar LED bulbs at the conference. Incandescent bulbs are beginning their slow fade to black, as another iconic technology makes way for the new. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


RNC Hispanic outreach director: Romney 'still deciding what his position on immigration is' (Chris Moody, 5/08/12, Yahoo!)

When asked during a meeting with reporters Tuesday how Republicans plan to convince Hispanics that their platform on immigration is better than the Democratic plan, RNC National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Bettina Inclan declined to answer because, she said, Mitt Romney is "still deciding what his position on immigration is."

It's an election, not a primary.

May 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Obama Camp Claims Romney 'Regressed' on Gay Rights (Carol E. Lee, A5/08/12, WSJ)

As President Barack Obama continued to take heat for his "evolving" position on same-sex marriage, his re-election campaign sought to deflect attention by criticizing Mitt Romney over his positions on gay-rights issues.

Using a version of Mr. Obama's 2012 slogan - Forward - campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a statement Tuesday saying on gay rights issues Mr. Romney "hasn't evolved - he has regressed."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Republican poll analysis: The race to November begins (ED GOEAS and BRIAN NIENABER, 5/7/12, Politico)

Setting the closeness of the election aside for a second, this data does indicate that Mitt Romney has transitioned well from the Republican primary, moving into the general election campaign in a much stronger position than many pundits would have assumed a few short months ago.  Most important, Mitt Romney now seems well positioned to make a compelling case to the broader electorate.  At the outset, it should be noted that this should have been a time when President Obama was at his strongest.  A time period when the President has been able to take his case to voters, while Mitt Romney was wrapped up in a competitive primary fending off attacks from his rivals for the Republican nomination.  That is not the case, however.  Mitt Romney not only leads President Obama by one-point (48% to 47%), but holds a six-point lead (51% to 45%) with those voters that are "extremely likely" to vote. 

...could only have lost the election, not won it.  So long as the eventual nominee was plausible it made no difference who he was.  The incumbent is al that matters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Holland Cokeley Finds Turtle (IB Times, May 7, 2012)

In 1965 a then 13-year-old Jeff Cokeley carved his initials into an eastern box turtle in his backyard and let the creature go. Forty seven years later, his now 85-year-old father, Holland Cokeley, has found the exact same turtle with his son's initials on it on the family's property in South Strabane, Pennsylvania.

"I picked it up, and I thought 'Oh geez, this is Jeff's turtle!'" said Cokeley to KDKA Pittsburgh. "It's been here for 47 years, and it still has the same the same markings on it!"

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


B.H. Obama and T.S. Eliot (Peter Lawler, May 7, 2012, Big Think)

2. Not only has our president read "The Wasteland," which was a pretty standard introductory assignment when our literature programs were better than they are now.  He's read an essay by Eliot that shows that literary excellence of any kind is necessarily situated in a tradition.  And I will hazard the guess that that's why our president understands why Eliot refused to choose between "ecstatic chaos" and "lifeless mechanistic order"--both of which, of course, dispense with the ennobling and realistic discipline of tradition. It's the tradition--and the poet in response to the tradition--that maintains the tension between the two extreme ways of dissolving the forms and formalities that constitute human life. [...]

6. Obama shares, "at times," the fatalism of the Western tradition, the fatalism he finds in Eliot.  Life and death feed off each other.  We are born to die.  Our fertility--every dimension of our eros--depends on our mortality.  The poet is attracted by but refuses to succumb to the various efforts--imaginative or political--to escape who we are.  In this respect, we could wish that our poetic president would be more critical of the transhumanist impulses of our techno-optimism, and maybe even more critical of the "birth dearth" that plagues the sophisticated West.

7. Fatalism, our president seemed to think at other times, is reactionary because it gets in the way of our hopeful or progressive political efforts to transform our condition.  Our president is more socialist than Eliot, but his fatalism--what he learned about the Western tradition from poetry--chastens his political hopes at least to some extent.  We would wish our poetic tradition would chasten those hopes more.  The tension between fatalism and the belief in indefinite perfectibility is one that should characterize our best political reflections, and we postmodern conservatives are more with--although far from completely with--Eliot here.

8. Our president wrote he respects conservatives such as Eliot more than "bourgeois liberalism." He seems to mean that bourgeois liberals don't address our deepest longings, and they're blind to how flat-souled or one-dimensional bourgeois aspirations often are.  This is not a political statement so much as an acknowledgment that poets and the study of the best poetry of our tradition are more indispensable than ever in bourgeois times.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


If the birth rate falls again, we're in serious trouble (Daniel Knowles, April 12th, 2012, Daily Telegraph)

In 1968, a Stanford University professor, Paul R Ehrlich, warned that by the 1980s, humanity would be starving to death thanks to overpopulation. Time has turned the book, and its author, into a economists' joke; almost nothing he predicted has come to pass. While the world's population certainly has grown, human ingenuity more than kept up. The average human is now better fed than at any point in history.

Indeed, curiously, in the developed world, we now face the opposite problem: ageing. Italy, the total fertility rate has fallen to 1.23 children per woman, and one in five Italians is now over the age of 65. At one point, Russia's population was actually falling at a rate of 800,000 per year - though the decline has now slowed. Japan's working age population is expected to decrease by 20 per cent over the next 20 years, as is Germany's. These are only the extreme examples.

And the problem with ageing populations is that they are expensive. All of these countries provide tax breaks, benefits, pensions and so on to the elderly, and they all subsidise healthcare one way or another. As we report this morning, in the United Kingdom, rising life expectancy could eventually add another £750 billion to the national debt through the cost of pensions alone. Add the extra 5 per cent of GDP that the Office for Budget Responsibility says we'll have to spend on healthcare, and suddenly you can see why we're stuck on what my colleague Benedict Brogan calls the "great tax escalator".

But in this country, things aren't so bad, because unlike in Italy and Germany, the birthrate has actually increased quite a lot over the last 15 years. One of the reasons why is that New Labour's attempt to reduce child poverty through tax credits made it a lot cheaper for people to have children. Predictably enough, the result was that they are now having more of them. Thanks to this baby boom, our long term fiscal prospects are less bleak than they otherwise would be - more taxpayers means less tax per payer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Answer Isn't Socialism (Robert Reich, MAY 6, 2012)

The world's productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment.

In the United States, almost all the gains from productivity growth have been going to the top 1 percent, and the percent of the working-age population with jobs is now lower than it's been in more than thirty years (before the vast majority of women moved into paid work).

From a historical perspective, the astonishing thing is the number of do nothing jobs we added in order to get women and minorities into the workplace during exactly the same period that technology and global economic liberalization was producing the productivity boom.  

May 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 PM


Israel scraps early elections as Kadima joins Likud in unity gov't (JTA, 5/07/12)

Israel's planned move to early elections was scrapped when Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, agreed to join the ruling coalition with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.

The deal, which was reached in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, caught the Israeli political establishment by surprise. During the primary campaign for Kadima's leadership, Shaul Mofaz, now the party leader, had vowed to keep Kadima in the opposition, telling Haaretz that he believed "the current government represents all that is wrong with Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Short party for Hollande after French election win (Catherine Bremer and Alexandria Sage, May 7, 2012, Reuters)

His economic team, led by centre-left former finance minister Michel Sapin, includes politicians, industry leaders and public officials seen as market-friendly.

"The words 'grace period' do not apply to the situation. That's the reality," Sapin said, adding that the priority would be to launch discussions with France's European partners.

"Nobody expects that we simply arrive in power and hand out money. That doesn't correspond to the reality of the situation."

Economists say Hollande must quickly outline his domestic plans, likely to centre on a major tax reform, and revise over-optimistic growth targets which threaten deficit-cutting goals.

His plans to tweak a reform that raised the retirement age to 62 and increase the minimum wage are unsettling investors who fear France could drift away from the club of trusted northern European borrowers and towards the debt-laden periphery.

Standard & Poor's, which stripped France of its triple-A rating in January, said Hollande's victory had no immediate impact on its creditworthiness, though it would scrutinize his policy choices. There was at least a one in three chance of a cut to France's long-term rating within two years, it said.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Hill Poll: Voters split, independents say bin Laden death politicized (Julian Pecquet , 05/07/12, The Hill)

Just about as many likely voters think President Obama over-politicized the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death as believe he handled it just right, according to a new poll for The Hill.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Euro tumbles as Greek vote threatens austerity (Nia Williams, May 7, 2012, Reuters) 

The euro fell heavily across the board on Monday after Greek and French elections cast doubt on politicians' commitment to austerity plans aimed at tackling the euro zone debt crisis.

Traders said losses, which saw the common currency hit a three-month low against the dollar, its lowest in 3-1/2 years against the British pound and a 2-1/2 month trough versus the yen, were likely to be extended in coming days.

No one buys futures in dying nations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


'It's a new day': A good deal for Chicago labor and taxpayers (Chicago Tribune, 5/07/12)

Laborers' Local 1001, which represents about 2,000 Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation workers, has just negotiated a groundbreaking agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration.

The union negotiated the deal because it wants its members to be employed.

Under the changes, new hires in Streets and Sanitation will be paid $20 an hour, less than the current start rate of $33 an hour. The new hires will be eligible for pay raises based on the number of hours they work, eventually reaching $38 an hour.

The city will gain flexibility in how it can deploy its workers, because the new workers will be trained for several jobs, such as garbage pickup, graffiti removal, tree trimming and rodent control. The probation period for new hires will be four years, rather than the current six months. It will be easier for the city to remove poorly performing employees and hire new ones who can do the job.

The city estimates these changes will save taxpayers $30 million over six years.

The changes were negotiated between City Hall and Laborers' 1001 without a protracted contract negotiation, without the threat of a strike. The union's contract doesn't expire until 2017.

This looks like one of the first fruits of Emanuel's efforts to instill a sense of competition in city government. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


The Call of the Future: Today we worry about the social effects of the Internet. A century ago, it was the telephone that threatened to reinvent society. (Tom Vanderbilt, Spring 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

As telephones became ubiquitous in America--their number grew from 1.3 million in 1900 to 43 million at the end of the 1950s--they nearly disappeared from the realm of scholarly inquiry. Perhaps, as political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool noted in the introduction to a 1977 book, The Social Impact of the Telephone, "the telephone's inherently dual effects are one reason for the paucity of literature on its social impact. Its impacts are puzzling, evasive, and hard to pin down."

But so too are the impacts of, say, the computer. Witness the intense debate occasioned by the publication a couple of years ago of The Shallows, in which technology journalist Nicholas Carr examined whether the Internet was changing the way we think. Yet while there are entire academic journals (e.g., Computers in Human Behavior) that parse the social impact of computers, not a single scholarly publication is devoted to the telephone. Even the mobile phone, arguably, is more scrutinized for its computer-like texting functions than its influence on our vocal communication.

Indeed, it is striking how many phenomena attributed to the Internet age have their historical echo in the telephone. Identity theft and Internet predators? The early years of the telephone brought concerns over the unwanted entry--via telephone line--of unsavory characters into the home, and some people called for laws to regulate criminal use of the phone. Or consider the contemporary argument that automated high-frequency Internet trading increases the volatility of financial markets. As Aronson noted, "The widespread use of the telephone probably added to the short-run instability of such markets." Before unwanted spam e-mails there were unwanted sales calls. The phrase "information superhighway" was preceded by a century in an AT&T ad announcing "a highway of communication." Computer hacking grew out of the culture of "phone phreaks"--those early-1970s technological obsessives (Steve Jobs among them) who figured out how to manipulate the phone system to place free phone calls.The list of parallels goes on.

Perhaps the telephone, despite its seemingly transformative nature--the annihilation of time and space--didn't change us much after all. Fischer, in America Calling, refuting the technological determinists who see the telephone altering the way we think and behave, quoted historian George Daniels: "Habits seem to grow out of other habits far more directly than they do out of gadgets." Social historian Daniel Boorstin similarly observed that "the telephone was only a convenience, permitting Americans to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before."

...doing with less effort is the point.

May 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


Hollande, Cinderella and France's New Deal (Cecilia Rodriguez, 5/06/12, Forbes)

His immediate promises include a three-month price freeze on fuel, returning the retirement age to 60 for those who started work at a young age and contributed  all their payments into the pension system, a 30% reduction of salaries for the president and his cabinet, and the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Obama's Not-So-Hot Date With Wall Street (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE,  May 2, 2012, NY Times)

[N]egotiations over the implementation of the new Dodd-Frank financial regulations had made large Wall Street institutions, chiefly banks, wary of open war with the White House. "Most of them are scared stiff of the president," a top Romney bundler on Wall Street told me recently. "Including the ones on our side."

But by the beginning of the year, it had also become obvious to many on Wall Street that Obama's campaign was going to take a populist turn. Some bankers believed that the administration's strategy was to talk tough in public and play damage control in private, and they were sick of playing along.

One day in late October, Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, slipped into the Regency Hotel in New York and walked up to a second-floor meeting room reserved by his aides. More than 20 of Obama's top donors and fund-raisers, many of them from the financial industry, sat in leather chairs around a granite conference table.

Messina told them he had a problem: New York City and its suburbs, Obama's top source of money in 2008, were behind quota. He needed their help bringing the financial community back on board.

For the next hour, the donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public's nasty mood. The administration, some suggested, had created a hostile environment for job creators.

Messina politely pushed back. It's not the president's fault that Americans are still upset with Wall Street, he told them, and given the public's mood, the administration's rhetoric had been notably restrained.

One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich?

If only a waiter had slapped him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Airstrike kills senior al-Qaida leader in Yemen (AHMED AL-HAJ | Associated Press )

An airstrike Sunday killed a top al-Qaida leader on the FBI's most wanted list for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole warship, Yemeni officials said. The airstrike resembled earlier U.S. drone attacks, but the U.S. did not immediately confirm it.

Fahd al-Quso was hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle, along with another al-Qaida operative in the southern Shabwa province, Yemeni military officials said. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Divining The Social Security Of The Future (Nathan Lewis, 5/06/121, Forbes)

Unlike many libertarian types, I think the notion of Social Security is, broadly speaking, a good thing. The countries that have tried to do without, such as libertarian Hong Kong, have found that the problems of old-age poverty became too serious to ignore. This is especially true since, due to demographic changes, more and more of the populations in most developed countries are over 65. Hong Kong instituted its "Mandatory Provident Fund" system in 2000, which puts a mandatory 5% contribution at both the employee and employer level into an account that holds private-sector assets.

Similar plans are in use in India, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and other places around the world. A 2005 study by the U.S. Social Security system itself found 31 countries, and I think they missed a few.

The Cato Institute, in February 2012, found that a simple 50% equity/50% bonds portfolio, begun in 1968 (not a very auspicious time as it was the beginning of a long bear market in both stocks and bonds), would have allowed monthly benefits of $2,067 today for the average family, compared to $1,358 from today's Social Security system.
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Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


A Kurdish Majority In Turkey Within One Generation? (PALASH R. GHOSH, May 6, 2012, IB Times)

[D]r. İsmet Koç, a demographer at Hacettepe University in Ankara, warned that Turkey's fertility rate is now below 2.1, the replacement level, which suggests the population will eventually decline.

The Kurdish community of Turkey, which currently represents at least 15 percent of the population and dominates the southeastern region, has such a high birth rate, that some observers - most prominently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- believe Kurds could become a majority in Turkey within two generations.

The proposed scenario is somewhat similar to the Palestinian situation in Israel, where Arabs could become the dominant ethnic group in the 'Jewish State' within 30 years or so; or the southwestern United States, where Hispanics and Mexican-Americans are likely to become the majority within a few decades.

According to Turkish government statistics, the average Kurdish woman in Turkey gives birth to about four children, more than double the rate for other Turkish mothers.

Thus, Turkey is facing a demographic time-bomb - Kurds, who tend to be concentrated in the country's impoverished southeast and are generally poorer and less educated, could conceivably outnumber Turks within about 30 years should present patterns persist.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Energy audits may be beneficial for both home buyers and sellers (Kenneth R. Harney, May 6, 2012, LA Times)

It may be the best-kept secret in residential real estate: For a couple of hundred dollars, a potential buyer bidding on an existing house can ask for a formal energy audit along with the standard inspection clause. That audit, in turn, can save the buyer thousands of dollars in future operating costs and pinpoint the specific features of the house that need correction to improve efficiency. It might also be a tipoff to a sobering reality: This house is an energy guzzler. Either the asking price comes down, the seller fixes the problems or I walk. [...]

Since energy costs rank high on the list of ongoing expenses for many homeowners, and multiple studies have demonstrated that energy-efficiency renovations more than pay for themselves in utilities savings, why aren't more audits performed? In an era of $4-a-gallon gas and autos that are marketed on the basis of their low fuel consumption, shouldn't buyers know about the operating costs of the houses they are bidding on? Shouldn't energy audit contingency clauses in purchase contracts be as commonplace as home inspection clauses?

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Is anybody normal any more? (MARGARET WENTE, 5/05/12,  Globe and Mail)

Are you ever worried that you (or a loved one) have mental problems that require professional attention? If not, then maybe you should be. Consider the following list of symptoms:

- Do you binge out on forbidden foods [Häagen-Dazs, Cheetos] more than a couple of times a month?
- Were you extremely sad and depressed for a month or two after your mother died, or even longer?
- Does your seven-year-old have frequent temper tantrums?
- Do you get cranky before your period?
- Are you forgetting more things than you used to?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, beware. Taken from the top, these behaviours could be symptoms of: Binge Eating Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (or possibly an even more serious condition, Child Bipolar Disorder), Premenstrual Attention Deficit Disorder, and Mild Neurocognitive Disorder. All of these conditions could wind up in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), due out next year.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Mitt Romney's team sees a path to winning the presidency (David Lightman, 5/03/12,McClatchy Newspapers)

[H]is camp says it could reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory this way:

Hold on to the 22 states that John McCain won in 2008. Take back three states that traditionally vote Republican for president but that Barack Obama captured in 2008: Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. Win traditional swing states Ohio and Florida. Then win one more swing state, such as: New Hampshire, where Romney has a home; Colorado; Pennsylvania; or even Michigan, where his father is remembered as a great governor.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Wisconsin Recall Amnesia: Why aren't Democrats running against Scott Walker's union reforms? (WSJ, 5/03/12)

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the front-runner, has focused his campaigns on jobs, education, the environment and "making communities safer." One of Mr. Barrett's ads singles out "Walker's War on Women," with nary a mention of collective bargaining. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is heavily supported by union groups, but even her issues list makes only passing reference to collective bargaining.

No wonder. Since Mr. Walker's reforms went into effect, the doom and gloom scenarios have failed to materialize. Property taxes in the state were down 0.4% in 2011, the first decline since 1998. According to Chief Executive magazine, Wisconsin moved up four more places this year to number 20 in an annual CEO survey of the best states to do business, after jumping 17 spots last year.

The Governor's office has estimated that altogether the reforms have saved Badger State taxpayers more than $1 billion, including $65 million in changes in health-care plans, and some $543 million in local savings documented by media reports. According to the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute, Mayor Barrett's city of Milwaukee saved $19 million on health-care costs as a direct result of Mr. Walker's reforms. 
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Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


At 64, it's time Israel acted its age (Dany Bahar, 5/06/12, Times of Israel)

True, we have done and are doing many excellent things. We have contributed to the world in many ways. We are a liberal society in many respects. And, of course, I know that regarding the conflict, it is unfair to blame everything on ourselves. The Palestinians have made, and are still making, many mistakes. They also behave immaturely. However, national maturity is not about focusing our achievements, but about focusing on what we can do better. It is about behaving maturely, regardless of whether others are doing the same. We need national maturity to understand that we must deal with the conflict now. Indeed, we are in the midst a crucial time in the history of our already-not-so-young state. A critical moment requires us to arrive at important decisions.

Kids are usually unable to recognize critical moments; 64-year-olds do.

The dilemma for us is clear. After 45 years of occupation we are left with two -- and only two - options: Either we annex the occupied territories and give Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians, creating one state for two people (and declaring an end to Zionism); or we separate ourselves, in two states, in peace and security, and start enjoying our golden years.

What would a mature 64-four-year-old do?
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Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Woman Fakes Breast Cancer To Raise Funds For Her Breast Implants (ADITI MATHUR, May 6, 2012, IB Times)

A Phoenix woman was arrested Wednesday on accounts of fraud and theft after authorities alleged that she faked cancer to raise charitable funds because she wanted breast implants for herself.

May 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Robert Caro: Political Power--How to Get It and Use It: Lyndon Johnson's famed biographer talks about what he's learned studying America's 36th President and Robert Moses. (BRIAN BOLDUC, 5/04/12, WSJ)

In the 1960s, he wrote an exposé for Newsday about urban planner Robert Moses's foolhardy plan to build a bridge across Long Island Sound from Rye, N.Y., to Oyster Bay, Long Island. Had the bridge been built, its gigantic piers would have interfered with the tide and caused water pollution, Mr. Caro argues. Although then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and State Assembly speaker Anthony Travia were both aware of the dangers, the assembly, under Moses's spell, initially voted in favor of the project "by something like 138 to 4."

That vote was a revelation to Mr. Caro. "Here's a guy who wasn't elected to anything, and he has more power than anyone else," he thought. "And you, Bob, think you're writing about political power, and you don't have any idea where he got this power."

His second great awakening occurred in 1965 while taking a class on urban planning at Harvard. The instructors were teaching the students that highways were built according to mathematical models: Urban planners measured factors like population density and commute time and picked their locations accordingly.

Still smarting from his encounter with Moses, Mr. Caro thought, "No, that's wrong. Highways get built where they're built because Robert Moses wants them built there." After realizing he had "something to contribute" to the field, Mr. Caro wrote a biography of Moses, "The Power Broker." It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. The volume has been so influential that even President Obama has acknowledged its influence on his thinking.

That year, Mr. Caro decided his next subject would be Johnson, who died in 1973. "You can use a biography to examine political power, but only if you pick the right guy," he says. "Moses was the right man because he had done something no one had done before: get power outside the elected process on that scale." Johnson, meanwhile, "understood national political power better than any president since [Franklin] Roosevelt."

Yet Mr. Caro discerns a key difference between his subjects. While Moses was an idealist whom power corrupted, Johnson wanted power for two reasons. "One," he says, "was to bend people to his will."

When Johnson was in college, for instance, he convinced the college president to let him assist in picking which students got campus jobs. As Mr. Caro writes in "The Passage of Power," "The wages from a campus job were often a student's only hope of paying his tuition." Spitefully, Johnson wouldn't recommend a student for a job unless he personally asked for his assistance.

Coexistent with this "naked desire for power," however, was a wish "to help the lives of poor people, particularly people of color," Mr. Caro adds. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Yes, the Health-Care Mandate Is About Liberty (Jonathan Cohn and David A. Strauss, May 3, 2012, Bloomberg)

Insurers need premiums from healthy people, so that, at any one time, they have money to pay the bills of the sick and injured. Private insurers can build these broad risk pools when they sell coverage through large employers, since such companies typically have big and diverse workforces. But when insurers sell health-care policies directly to individuals, they run into trouble: They disproportionately attract people who already have medical conditions.

During the 20th century, this problem of "adverse selection" pushed many insurers into financial distress.

To preserve themselves, carriers today charge higher premiums, reduce benefits or deny coverage altogether to applicants who have pre-existing medical conditions. Although this keeps insurers solvent, it excludes people who need insurance the most -- in ways that limit their ability to participate fully as members of society and, for that matter, to engage in interstate commerce. Frequently these people can't switch jobs or start a business. In the worst cases, they can't pay their medical bills or obtain the care they need.

By establishing the mandate, which is really just a financial incentive for people to get insurance, the Affordable Care Act will build large, stable risk pools for health insurance. It will also enable the government to set rules about standard benefits and pricing that allow people buying insurance on their own to comparison-shop. In the long run, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it will help government control the cost of medical care, which increasingly strains public and private resources alike -- and today accounts for one-sixth of the American economy.

The mandate would seem to fall well within current boundaries of the government's power to regulate interstate commerce and to do whatever is "necessary and proper" for carrying out its duties, as established by numerous precedents. that the mandate is not sufficiently universal and uniform, which is an argument in favor of HSAs from the cradle, though the funding mechanisms can be diverse.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


An infinite scream, passing through nature (Robert Fulford  May 5, 2012, Globe and Mail)
In the Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo, Edvard Munch's The Scream is the unquestioned star painting, like Leonardo's Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The other-worldly figure standing on the bridge overlooking Oslo, his mouth twisted into a vertical oval, lives in the world's visual memory. It was inspired by Munch seeing the sky suddenly turn a florid orange-red. That vision frightened him into art: "I stood there trembling with anxiety. I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Ever since Munch painted it in 1893, successive generations have embraced it as a work that catches the anxious spirit of their own time. On Wednesday, the art market re-affirmed the importance of both Munch and The Scream when an anonymous buyer at Sotheby's in New York paid $119,922,500, the highest figure any painting has ever brought at auction, for one of the four copies of The Scream Munch made.

Munch said he feared madness. Yet he also knew how to use it. His great accomplishment was to turn a life of misery into powerfully symbolic art. Driven and depressed, he made himself by force of will into the embodiment of madness in art. Partly under his influence, madness became an acceptable form of expression in modern culture. I confess to not having paid it much attention, but was still surprised when the obvious point was made that the figure in the picture is receiving not emitting the titular scream.  Not sure why anyone would drop that kind of iron on a work that exists to be mocked.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Delta Dawn: How Sears, Roebuck & Co. midwifed the birth of the blues (Chris Kjorness, May 2012, Reason)

Delta blues is as much legend as it is music. In the popular telling, blues articulated the hopelessness and poverty of an isolated, oppressed people through music that was disconnected from popular trends and technological advances. Delta blues giants like Robert Johnson were victims, buffeted by the winds of racism, singing out mostly for personal solace. The story is undoubtedly romantic, but it just isn't true. "It angers me how scholars associate the blues strictly with tragedy," B.B. King complained in his 1999 autobiography Blues All Around Me. "As a little kid, blues meant hope, excitement, pure emotion." 

The tragic image of the blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta ignores the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit of the bluesman himself. While it is certainly true that the music was forged in part by the legacy of slavery and the insults of Jim Crow, the iconic image of the lone bluesman traveling the road with a guitar strapped to his back is also a story about innovators seizing on expanded opportunities brought about by the commercial and technological advances of the early 1900s. There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co. 

Music has always been an instrument of upward mobility in the black community. 

If you read about the birth of Rhythm and Blues--and Deep Blues by Robert Palmer, Mystery Train by Greil Marcus and Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick are three of the best--it's astonishing how often a performer's first guitar was ordered from the Sears catalogue.  For B.B. it replaced plucking a wire strung on the wall of a barn.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Nihilism Is Dead: On this most meaningless of anniversaries, Turgenev's 'Bazarov' would not recognize the philosophy he launched. (ROBERT ZARETSKY, 5/04/12, WSJ)

Bazarov impressed Nietzsche in part because the myopic and migraine-besieged German had felt alone in a world blinded to the calamity about to befall it. "Until now I have endured a torture: all of the laws by which life unfolds appeared to me to be in opposition to the values for the sake of which we endure life," Nietsche wrote in a short fragment in 1888. "This does not appear to be a condition from which many consciously suffer." And like the madman in "Thus Spoke Zarathusta," who declares that God is dead, Nietzsche warned his contemporaries that the religious, moral and even scientific stories they lived by were a pack of lies. The acid of reason had eaten away not only at the roots of faith, but its very own foundations as well. Like viewers seeking nature on the Discovery channel, all we are left with are interpretations of the world. As Nietzsche understood, this is thin gruel for those in need of transcendental sustenance.

What, then, are we to do? Celebrate, according to Nietzsche. After Bazarov's rebellion against an oppressive and obscurantist state, Nietzsche called for a rebellion against an oppressive and obscurantist set of illusions about the world. A world emptied of lasting meaning is infinitely more terrifying than a world filled with czarist prisons. But this realization is the first step to the nihilist's cure: Once we recognize this monstrous state of meaninglessness, we are free to recreate ourselves. "The world is not worth what we believed," Nietzsche scrawled in "The Gay Science" in 1862, adding: "It could be worth much more than we believed."

And, as we now know, it could also be worth so much less. More than a century later, nihilism isn't what it used to be. Unlike with the heroic challenges issued by a Bazarov and Zarathustra, we live in an age where meaninglessness is, well, meaningless. For some, this is quite as it should be. As literary theorist Terry Eagleton observed in his 2007 book "The Meaning of Life," while all men and women ponder the meaning of life, "some, for good historical reasons, are drawn to ponder it more urgently than others." Our age, Mr. Eagleton believes, lacks the urgency for such philosophical pondering--a situation that he views with equanimity.

Even contemporary philosophers, such as Thomas Nagel, who think there is something real and uncanny to the concept of nothingness, are unperturbed by it. In his 1971 essay "The Absurd," Mr. Nagel admits that nihilism "attempts to express something that is difficult to state, but fundamentally correct." This sentiment reflects something true and enduring about our lives: the shock we feel, when stepping outside ourselves and adopting the "view from nowhere," when we suddenly confront the dissonance between the great importance we devote to our daily activities and their ultimate inconsequentiality.

Yet this state of affairs, as Mr. Nagel adds, is hardly reason for the romantic and heroic posturing of a Bazarov or Nietzsche--or, for that matter, a Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus. Instead, he says, an ironic "What? Me, worry?" is the proper response to the cosmic unimportance of our situation. My life, in short, is little more than a cosmic episode of Seinfeld: rather than watching a show about nothing, I'm a walk-on in a life about nothing. Laugh tracks are optional.

And so we groan.

May 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Political Polarization: In the Eye of the Beholder? (Christopher Shea, 5/03/12, WSJ)

Individuals with more extreme partisan attitudes perceive greater polarization than individuals with less extreme partisan attitudes. This "polarization projection" was demonstrated in 3 studies in which people estimated the distribution of others' political attitudes: one study with a nationally representative sample concerning the 2008 presidential election, and 2 studies concerning university students evaluating a policy regarding scarce resource allocation. These studies demonstrate that polarization projection occurs simultaneously with and independently of simple projection, the tendency to assume that others share one's partisan political attitudes. Polarization projection may occur partly because people assume that others engage in similar attitudinal processes as the self, such as extensive thought and emotional arousal. The projection of various attitudinal processes was demonstrated in a study concerning health care reform policies. Further supporting this explanation, polarization projection increased when people introspected about their own attitudinal processes, which increased the accessibility of those processes.

There is no difference between the Left and the Right.

May 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Threat from mounting public job losses tested Obama's economic strategy (Zachary A. Goldfarb, 4/29/12, Washington Post)

Since the beginning of his term, state and local governments have shed 611,000 employees -- including 196,000 educators -- according to government statistics. Unlike the recovery in private-sector employment that Obama and his reelection campaign often cite -- with businesses adding 4 million jobs since hiring hit its low point in 2010 -- the jobs crisis at the state and local level has continued throughout his term.

...when folks are happy to be rid of these boondoggles but think it vital that we add make-work positions in the private sector. The reality is that corporate and public bureaucracies are still far too massive.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


How George W. Bush Would Have Replaced Obamacare (Avik Roy, 4/30/12, Forbes)

In contrast to Obamacare, however, the Bush plan would have turbocharged the market for consumer-driven health plans, tied to health savings accounts, because the most economically efficient use of the deduction would be to purchase a sufficiently generous consumer-driven plan that allowed individuals to put a maximal amount of money into HSAs. Obamacare significantly constrains the use of HSAs in its regulated insurance markets.

President Bush also proposed an "Affordable Choices Initiative," which would redirect existing federal spending in states that sought to expand coverage to the uninsured.

As you'll remember, the 1986 EMTALA law forces hospital emergency rooms to care for anyone who shows up, regardless of their ability to pay. In order to partially compensate for this mandate, and underpayments from Medicaid and Medicare, the federal government gives most urban hospitals "disproportionate share hospital," or DSH, payments. Bush proposed to shift these dollars away from hospitals and toward uninsured individuals directly.

States would design their own programs for expanding coverage, subject to approval by the HHS secretary, such as offering direct subsidies for insurance premiums, expanding or creating high-risk pools, or setting up Massachusetts-style exchanges. "Rather than perpetually pay the bills of uninsured people," said then-HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, "it's better to use part of the money to help them get a basic insurance policy. They get better care and the money ultimately goes further." [...]

The Bush plan would have expanded coverage and reduced the deficit

The Lewin Group analyzed the Bush tax reform using its Health Benefits Simulation Model, and estimated that equalizing the tax treatment of health insurance would expand coverage by 9.2 million people. In addition, the Bush administration estimated that the Affordable Choices Initiative would expand coverage by an additional 2 million or so, for a total of about 11 million. That's not as large a coverage expansion of Obamacare, at 33 million, but that 11 million is achieved with zero increase in federal spending commitments: a pretty impressive bang for the buck.

In addition, Obamacare's 30-million coverage expansion figure may be substantially inflated. If the individual mandate gets struck down by the Supreme Court, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the law would expand coverage by only about 17 million, despite trillions of additional federal spending.

Even more impressively, the Joint Committee on Taxation--the government agency responsible for the CBO's estimates of the impact of tax legislation--projected that the Bush proposal would reduce the deficit by $334 billion from 2008 to 2017, and by trillions more in later decades, because the tax deduction would grow at the rate of inflation, whereas the tax exclusion of employer-sponsored health insurance isn't capped by law, and grows along with overall, and higher, health inflation.

These savings could have been used by the Bush administration to reduce the deficit, or alternatively, to create a $5,000 tax credit to for the uninsured to purchase health care, as George H.W. Bush had proposed. "This would be preferable to raising the $15,000 deduction" in the 2007 plan, the Wall Street Journal noted, "because the lower the deduction, the greater incentive for judicious consumption of health dollars."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


What Impact Investing Could Do For Health Care: We spend $2.6 trillion a year on treating illness. Could investing in people rather than treatment help us redirect some of that money toward preventing the underlying problems? (Bradley Kreit, 5/02/12, CoExist)
In his TedMed talk last week, where he called for a renewed focus on improving root causes of health problems rather than waiting until they cause full blown illnesses, Sandeep Kishore noted this somewhat startling statistic: Of the 30 years of average life-expectancy gains the United States made in the last century, a surprisingly small amount of that average increase--just five years--stems from improvements in the sort of medical care we get in hospitals. The rest of those gains came from other sources, like improvements in water quality and sanitation, vaccinations, and other improvements in public health.

And while that may sound surprising, it's consistent with a lot of what we know about health. For example, Steven Schroeder, the past president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has estimated that only about 10% of how healthy we are and how long we live is determined by health care. Instead, how we live our lives--our choices and behaviors, our physical surroundings, our socioeconomic circumstances--turn out to be far more important over the long run.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


The Jet That Ate the Pentagon: The F-35 is a boondoggle. It's time to throw it in the trash bin. (WINSLOW WHEELER | APRIL 26, 2012, Foreign Policy)

A review of the F-35's cost, schedule, and performance -- three essential measures of any Pentagon program -- shows the problems are fundamental and still growing.

First, with regard to cost -- a particularly important factor in what politicians keep saying is an austere defense budget environment -- the F-35 is simply unaffordable. Although the plane was originally billed as a low-cost solution, major cost increases have plagued the program throughout the last decade. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. Not to worry, however -- they pledged to finally reverse the growth.

The result? This February, the price increased another 4 percent to $395.7 billion and then even further in April. Don't expect the cost overruns to end there: The test program is only 20 percent complete, the Government Accountability Office has reported, and the toughest tests are yet to come. Overall, the program's cost has grown 75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion -- and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.

Hundreds of F-35s will be built before 2019, when initial testing is complete. The additional cost to engineer modifications to fix the inevitable deficiencies that will be uncovered is unknown, but it is sure to exceed the $534 million already known from tests so far. The total program unit cost for each individual F-35, now at $161 million, is only a temporary plateau. Expect yet another increase in early 2013, when a new round of budget restrictions is sure to hit the Pentagon, and the F-35 will take more hits in the form of reducing the numbers to be bought, thereby increasing the unit cost of each plane.

A final note on expense: The F-35 will actually cost multiples of the $395.7 billion cited above. That is the current estimate only to acquire it, not the full life-cycle cost to operate it. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion -- making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain. And that estimate is wildly optimistic: It assumes the F-35 will only be 42 percent more expensive to operate than an F-16, but the F-35 is much more complex. The only other "fifth generation" aircraft, the F-22 from the same manufacturer, is in some respects less complex than the F-35, but in 2010, it cost 300 percent more to operate per hour than the F-16. To be very conservative, expect the F-35 to be twice the operating and support cost of the F-16.

Already unaffordable, the F-35's price is headed in one direction -- due north.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


The testing glut: Finally, even medical specialty boards are moving against the overdiagnosis epidemic. (H. Gilbert Welch, May 2, 2012, LA Times)

Could American medicine be changing?

For years, medical organizations have been developing recommendations and guidelines focused on things doctors should do. The specialty societies have been focused on protecting the financial interests of their most profligate members and have been reluctant to acknowledge the problem of overuse. Maybe they are now owning up to the problem.

And judging from the content of the list, testing is a big part of that problem. Only a quarter of the recommendations fell in the category of "don't treat" -- as in, don't prescribe more chemotherapy for end-stage cancer that is beyond hope. The remainder fell in the category of "don't test."

Because it can be the first step in a cascade of medical interventions, the focus on testing makes good sense. The specialty boards seem to now recognize that the results of testing include both signals (useful information) and noise (false and distracting information). For patients with symptoms the signal predominates. But for those without symptoms the noise predominates. And the noise is not harmless, it can trigger overdiagnosis and overtreatment. "Routine" chestX-rays, for example, have a way of unearthing multiple abnormalities. This raises questions in physicians' minds -- triggering CT scans, needle biopsies, bronchoscopies and even surgery in an effort to answer them.

That's why multiple recommendations have argued against routine use of tests such as cardiograms (EKGs), ECHO and CT scans in asymptomatic patients -- and against repetitive testing in patients whose symptoms have not changed.

Admittedly, some of the recommendations seem brain-dead obvious.

Obviousness is no bar to hysteria.
Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Bibi, Let Go (Trita Parsi May 2, 2012, Daily Beast)

In the last few months, Israel's security and strategic options have changed dramatically. Against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, Netanyahu's campaign to force Obama's hand on Iran has failed. Obama made it clear in March that he would not go to war with Iran over uranium enrichment, as Bibi had requested.

Instead, he would reinvest in diplomacy and opt for a solution based on limiting and inspecting--not eliminating--Iran's enrichment program. And if diplomacy succeeds, Obama won't go to war with Iran at all. Rather, a reduction of US-Iran tensions will follow, which may have significant repercussions throughout the region.

As a stalwart opponent of US-Iran diplomacy, Netanyahu is putting Israel on the opposite side of the US. Israel must now make a choice: Either continue to obstruct Obama's diplomatic strategy and risk greater tensions with Israel's most important ally, or shift gears and opt to influence the talks instead.

If either lets go what purpose do they serve anymore?

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May 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


In Syria, America Allies with the Muslim Brotherhood : The president's support for the Syrian National Council strengthens Islamists. (John Rosenthal, 5/01/12, National Review)

While the Obama administration's burgeoning contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt continue to cause controversy, the administration's policy of growing cooperation with the Syrian opposition continues to enjoy almost unanimous support. This is remarkable, since by virtue of that policy the administration is openly allied with none other than the Muslim Brotherhood: that is, openly, but with perhaps just enough misdirection for the alliance to escape the notice of the broader public.

The Syrian opposition organization that the United States and other Western powers have been officially supporting is, of course, the Syrian National Council (SNC). At a meeting in Istanbul on April 1, the so-called Friends of Syria, including the United States, recognized the SNC as "a legitimate representative of all Syrians." Although the use of the indefinite article suggests there were reservations on the part of some participants, U.S. State Department statements both before and after the Istanbul meeting leave no doubt that the Obama administration treats the SNC as its principal Syrian interlocutor. The SNC is also the presumptive recipient or at least conduit of the aid that the Obama administration has pledged to the Syrian opposition. While in Istanbul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with representatives of the SNC, and she afterwards promised that "there will be more assistance of all kinds for the Syrian National Council."

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Mitt Romney: Ready for his close-up (Patrick B. Pexton, 4/27/12, Washington Post)

This week I reviewed 700 stories about Romney published by the Boston Globe during his campaign for, and first year as, governor. Patterns emerge in any politician, and they do with Romney, too.

Romney, for example, is nothing if not agile. In his gubernatorial campaign, he tried many messages before finally landing on themes along these lines: I fixed the Salt Lake City Olympics and I'll fix the patronage and budget deficits of Massachusetts. I'll veto any tax increases. I support the statewide ballot initiative to abolish bilingual education. And I'm the only guy who stands in the way of an entrenched 'Gang of Three' -- Democrats controlling the governor's chair, and House and Senate.

He also, in the final three weeks, ran a relentless and expensive negative TV ad campaign against his opponent, Shannon P. O'Brien, just like he did this year against GOP rivals Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others. Voters interviewed by the Globe in 2002 said they couldn't wait for the election to be over and called it the most negative campaign for governor they could remember.

As governor, Romney cut spending, and, as promised, didn't raise income taxes, but he did close tax "loopholes" on corporations -- and he dramatically raised state fees, such as tuition at state universities. He also won unprecedented powers to cut state aid to cities and towns, and then he angered mayors by assigning his lieutenant governor and underlings to meet and explain the plan to municipal leaders.

Indeed, his aloof management style turned off a lot of people. He would do a PowerPoint or major speech on TV to outline broad themes, and then walk away and let his staff do the hard work. Globe columnist Brian McGrory said Romney in his first year (he got better later) didn't have just a "tin ear" to the schmoozing and politicking necessary to get things done on Beacon Hill but a "steel ear."

Romney proposed big reorganizations, getting some changes to the Massachusetts human services and transportation departments, but he flamed out completely on a restructuring of the state university system. He did manage, eventually, to get the unpopular head of the system to resign.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Behind the dissident's escape (Chicago Tribune, May 1, 2012)

[A]ttention ought to focus at least briefly on the government policies that Chen took such risks to protest.

Most gruesome is family planning agencies' practice of dragging pregnant women out of their homes to have their fetuses destroyed, as part of the government's long-standing one-child policy. Forced abortions have occurred as late as nine months into a pregnancy.

The victims may also have IUDs inserted without their consent to prevent future pregnancies. The advocacy group All Girls Allowed says these atrocities help explain why China is the only nation on Earth where women are more likely to commit suicide than are men.

Chen's crime was to publicize this savagery by filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of women subjected to it. He was jailed for more than four years for "disturbing public order" and upon his release, he and his family were placed under strict house arrest, deprived of visitors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


On Anniversary of bin Laden's Death, Little Backing of al Qaeda (Pew Research Center, 5/01/12)

A year after the death of its leader, al Qaeda is widely unpopular among Muslim publics. A new poll by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, conducted March 19 to April 13, 2012, finds majorities - and mostly large majorities - expressing negative views of the terrorist group in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon.

In Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals, 13% of Muslims hold a favorable view of al Qaeda, 55% an unfavorable view, and roughly three-in-ten (31%) offer no opinion.

Support for the organization is in the single digits among Turkish and Lebanese Muslims. In Jordan, just 15% express a positive opinion, essentially unchanged from last year, but down significantly from 34% in 2010. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Mitt Romney's Problem With Unmarried Women Voters Could Sink Him (Patricia Murphy, 5/02/12, Daily Beast)

Mitt Romney does not a woman problem, per se. In the latest Gallup tracking polls, he is winning among married women by 9 points over President Obama. Married women like his policies, they like his values, and they seem to relate to the father of five and longtime married man.

But when unmarried women are polled, they go for Obama by a 28-point margin, making a 37-point marriage gap that could spell the end of Romney's presidential ambitions unless he can win over more unmarried women or increase turnout among men and married women enough to blunt the impact of that gap.

Time to import all those desperate single Chinese men.

May 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Why Reform Conservatism deserves a chance (Michael Gerson, 4/30/12, Washington Post)

Rejectionist Conservatism, which comes in tea party and libertarian variants, would use current political controversies to fundamentally reorder the role of the federal government. At least in theory, it would repeal not just Obamaism but also the Great Society, the New Deal and much else in pursuit of a minimal state.

Reform Conservatism, in contrast, would seek to achieve federal goals in modern, market-oriented ways. It is less concerned about re-founding the country than making Medicare work. Its chief practitioner is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), supported by a few policy experts of disproportionate creativity and influence. [...]

Ryan's expression of Reform Conservatism has both virtues and vulnerabilities. It deals seriously with the fiscal crisis -- which, driven by demographics and cost increases, is a health entitlement crisis. For 40 years, federal, non-health-related spending has been relatively stable as a percentage of the economy. During the same period, federal health spending has increased as a share of the economy by more than five times and will double again by 2050. No realistic amount of tax increases or discretionary spending cuts can cover this expanding national commitment. Either health entitlements, particularly Medicare, are substantially reformed, or their cost will consume every other purpose of government.

Ryan proposes moving toward a premium support system in Medicare in which seniors could choose a private plan or current Medicare. Competition would put downward pressure on costs. Poorer and sicker seniors would get extra help. Middle- and upper-income seniors, over time, would pay more out-of-pocket. It would be a difficult but orderly transition to a more market-oriented, means-tested system.

Ryan's Reform Conservatism is more vulnerable to criticism on the way it deals with long-term economic growth. It would lift some tax burdens on the economy, but it probably underestimates the challenge of globalization and does not specify the measures necessary to increase American competitiveness.

And Ryan's approach is least impressive in confronting America's main social problem -- a lack of social capital and economic mobility at the bottom of the income scale. There are a variety of good conservative ideas to encourage teacher quality, savings and wealth building, financial literacy, good parenting skills, and high school and college completion. They are not even a peripheral part of the Ryan agenda, which is dominated by addressing the fiscal crisis.

While Democrats are going to fight making medicine more market based, the infusions of cash that will go to children in things like O'Neill accounts should appeal to them, just as W bought vouchers with NCLB cash and HSAs with prescription drug money.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Five myths about conservative voters (Frank I. Luntz, 4/27/12, Washington Post)

1. Conservatives care most about the size of government.

They may have rallied around President Ronald Reagan's call for smaller government three decades ago -- but it's not the 1980s anymore. Today, conservatives don't want a reduced government so much as one that works better and wastes less.

In a poll we completed among self-identified conservatives just before the 2010 elections,"efficient" and "effective" government clearly beat "less" and "smaller" government. For conservatives, this debate is less about size than about results, along with a demand that elected officials demonstrate accountability and respect for the taxpayer, regardless of whether they're spending $1 million or $1 trillion. They are rallying behind the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not simply because it cuts the size of government, but because it cultivates accountability. [...]

2. Conservatives want to deport all illegal immigrants.

Conservatives don't want to round up all the illegal immigrants and deport them. They believe in the American dreamand understand that immigrants built our country. That's why conservatives embrace legal immigration. A solid majority believe that there should be an eventual path to earned legal status. [...]

4. Conservatives want to slash Social Security and Medicare.

This charge is at the heart of the Democrats' campaign against the GOP. Take Florida, a key swing state full of conservative seniors. According to an AARP poll there last year, 70 percent of them oppose cuts to Medicare. They want the program strengthened, not dismantled. They know Medicare needs reform, but they want changes to be effective and reasonable.

People tend to confuse conservatives with the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


No alternative to austerity (Gideon Rachman, 4/30/12, Financial Times)

If building great roads and trains were the route to lasting prosperity, Greece and Spain would be booming. The past 30 years have seen a huge splurge in infrastructure spending, often funded by the EU. The Athens metro is excellent. The AVE fast-trains in Spain are a marvel. But this kind of spending has done very little to change the fundamental problems that now plague both Greece and Spain - in particular, youth unemployment.

Worse, in some ways, EU funding for infrastructure has created problems. In Greece, milking the EU for subsidies became an industry in itself: and political connections were a surer route to wealth than entrepreneurial flair.

As for Italy and Spain, they are not cutting their budgets out of some crazed desire to drive their own economies into the ground. Their austerity drives were a reaction to the fact that markets were demanding unsustainably high interest rates to lend to them. There is no reason to believe that the markets are now suddenly prepared to fund wider deficits in southern Europe. The "end austerity now" crowd respond that it is the responsibility of Europe's dwindling band of triple A rated countries to go on a consumption binge and so pull their neighbours out of the mire. 
But the assumption of unlimited Dutch and German creditworthiness is unconvincing - as the market reaction to the Dutch failure to agree a budget, last week, illustrated.

Even in France, the centre of the revolt against austerity, it is hard to argue that the problem is that the state is not doing enough. This is a country where the state already consumes 56 per cent of gross domestic product, which has not balanced a budget since the mid-1970s, and which has some of the highest taxes in the world.

Mr Hollande, who is not an idiot, knows all this. That is why, behind all the feel-good rhetoric about ending austerity, the small print is less exciting. In fact, all the Socialist candidate is promising to do is to take a year longer than President Nicolas Sarkozy to balance France's budget. In Europe, even the left cannot pretend that deficit-spending can continue for ever. So they are reduced to arguing that governments are cutting, "too far and too fast", in the words of Ed Balls, Britain's shadow chancellor. This is small-scale quibbling - masquerading as a major doctrinal dispute.